Stories and Insights

April 2023

Exhibition “Meanwhile, at the Khanenko House” at The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts, Kyiv, Ukraine 

“The exhibition ‘Meanwhile, at the Khanenko House’ is mesmerizing. It works with space, images, and feelings. The permanent collection was dismantled because of the war, but even without the usual exposition, the museum feels alive. … This exhibition is like a blood transfusion,” wrote Kostiantyn Doroshenko, an art critic from Ukraine, about the recently opened show at the Khanenko Museum in Kyiv.

When the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts’ team and volunteers worked tirelessly to protect their priceless collection of fine and decorative arts. The collection includes artworks from Europe, Iran, Tibet, China, Japan, and ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, housed in the museum’s two 19th-century buildings of great historical and artistic value. Before the war, almost 1,000 artworks out of the museum’s 25,000 artifacts were displayed permanently.

As the museum’s artist-volunteers worked to safeguard the collection, one of them joked about using bubble wrap to create sculptures for the empty spaces. In the museum cleared of its artworks, what do you do as an institution? The team and artists met often throughout the year to discuss the state of art and the museum during the war. This eventually led to the creation of an exhibition titled “Meanwhile, at the Khanenko House,” curated by Katia Libkind and featuring works by 14 artists.

The exhibition fills every room in the museum, and objects from the past have been replaced by the art created by artists living in the city today. Transitory installations now fill empty vitrines and cabinets, offering simple objects with complex meanings. Throughout 2022, a group of artists helped the museum deal with the many challenges of wartime, creating a deeply involved community. Through this exhibition, they attempt to find connections with each other, with the museum, and the often-unfathomable reality of life during the war. The exhibition is about the people who created it, about togetherness and individuality. It asks many questions: Where do we speak from? How do artworks end up in museums? How are they curated and who selects what needs to be rescued and preserved? What would you choose?

At the ArtsLink Assembly last fall, Olha Novikova, a senior researcher of the Eastern Art Department at the Khanenko Museum, said, ‘During the war, our timelines have shrunk. We used to think about projects in terms of months and years. We are now thinking in terms of days.’ The museum team organized masterclasses for the local community on packing valuable items, excursions around the museum, and workshops in the museum courtyard, among other public events. They created “Shadows and walls” tours on the history and architecture of the empty museum, as well as a temporary exhibition titled “Toy Soldiers: Invasion. Oleh Kalashnik at the Khanenko Museum,” in which the artist used toy soldiers to create installations. They invited the Opera Aperta laboratory to perform the contemporary opera “Genesis. Opera of Memory at Khanenko Museum in Kyiv.”

The museum became a community hub, providing a place of freedom and calm for local residents, families, artists, and friends. This sense of relative stability was shattered on October 10, when Russia intensified its months-long campaign to bomb civilian and critical infrastructure throughout Ukraine. A missile landed near the museum, leaving a huge crater and blowing out most of the windows. Glass shards were everywhere. As soon as public transportation resumed, people came to the museum to help clean up, and the museum reopened soon after. The exhibition “Meanwhile, at the Khanenko House” is the latest project that brings this indomitable community together.