Artist-run galleries and informal spaces started to emerge around Ukraine in the late 1980s*, mapping the previously non-existent sphere of contemporary art. Unlike Kyiv where these self-organized initiatives were gradually replaced by a more or less divaricate infrastructure with commercial galleries, educational projects, rich private art centres and public museum complexes, in cities like Lviv and Uzhhorod artistic communities have until today maintained the functions of the art system, being producers, distributors, mediators, spectators and commentators for their own art practices.
Informal gallery spaces in Western Ukraine may be roughly classified in two major categories: 1. those being founded by artists on available territories and 2. the various premises (in particular residential) temporarily mapped as exhibition spaces. First examples of such practices belong to the late 1980s — early 1990s in Lviv where artist Yuriy Sokolov curated collective artistic happenings and exhibitions — initially in one of the stone buildings on Rynok Square and later in the cellar of the apartment house he lived in.
Almost 20 years later Yuriy Sokolov walked into the gallery “Efremova26” situated by coincidence wall-to-wall with his house on 24 Efremova Str. The gallery space in the abandoned villa was unexpectedly given to the artists of “Open Group” in early 2013 by unknown owners of the place, and in a similar manner taken away after 10 months of productive work. This was one the most established galleries in Lviv — with white walls, high ceilings and even a reception desk. While another space run by “Open Group” until today, “Detenpyla”, is quite the opposite. A semi-basement room in an old apartment building which was previously a forge and a laundry is now used as a kitchen by Yuriy Biley who resides in the room next door. Since 2011 this kitchen has also functioned as a gallery space exhibiting well-known and emerging artists ranging from renowned masters of Polish conceptualism to students of Lviv Art Academy.
Anton Varga, another artist of “Open Group”, practiced a similar effortless combination of life and project activity the winter of 2012/2013. During the 89 calendar days of winter he opened a new show every! single night in his modest kitchen, documented it and published online in a blog that registered this continuous flow of events.
The “seasonal” nature of programming is also inherent to the “Temporary Exhibition” project that takes place every three months on the first floor of the Artists’ Union studios building in Uzhhorod. Unlike spaces in Lviv, “Korydor” is not mentioned in any city guide and when asking citizens about the address, local artists might in jest object that it's not a gallery, but a corridor that leads to the studio of Palvo Pavlovych Kovach.
Another example of combination of private and exhibition spaces is “Tymutopiyapres” that occasionally welcomes visitors to the garage in the courtyard of Lubomyr Tymkiv's private house. It is in the heart of old Lviv cottage area where Tymkiv exhibits projects of his fellow artists, mail art, graphic art and zines by international artists, as well as makes videos for his own virtual projects.
These and other similar artist-run galleries exist beyond conventional art system regulations and obviously outside of art market interest. Each makes its own way, often unpredictable, while their future greatly depends on both external circumstances and personal whims. However, when researching in-deep, it is those galleries' collections of documents and artifacts — organized, chaotic, digitalized, ephemeral — that constitute the most interesting and unprejudiced sources of knowledge on the Western Ukrainian art scene. Moreover, this tradition of here-and-nowhere underground spaces produces a specific type of artistic thinking in the region. These practices are not about “making” complete projects or pieces — but are stretched in time and space, manifesting themselves in continuous observations, storing personal items, images and texts, or simply in a variety of routine everyday work which acquires a sense of an artistic programme.
* Odessa with its tradition of apartment exhibitions of the 1960-70s may be considered an exception to that. Yet the famous “kvartyrnyky” in Odessa were sporadic events and did not function as stable galleries which are a subject of discussion in this text.