INTERVIEW with the founders of
The Naked Room Gallery

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This interview has been in the works for a long time, and it’s finally here. We have spoken to the founders of The Naked Room Gallery – Maria Lanko, Lizaveta German and Marc Raymond Wilkins. It opened its doors in 2018, and quickly became one of the top art destinations in Kyiv. Today TNR is one of the most dynamic contemporary art galleries in Ukraine. Our guests have different backgrounds, as well as nationalities – Maria and Liza are curators from Ukraine, whereas Marc is a Swiss-British film director and screenwriter. In this interview, we unravel how the collaboration among the three came about and talked about their latest endeavors.

Mark Raymond Wilkins, Lizaveta German and Maria Lanko. Photo by Yevgen Nikiforov

1. How did the collaboration among the three of you begin?
 
Marc-Raymond Wilkins:
I was looking for someone who could tell me about the contemporary art scene in Ukraine, because I noticed that there wasn’t a place where one could easily go and purchase affordable, but at the same time cool artwork in a relaxed atmosphere. When I asked Dana Pavlychko [head of Osnovy Publishing] for advice, she immediately answered that it had to be Liza and Masha. At the time I was already working on a different project. However, after talking to them I decided that it would be much cooler to collaborate on a smaller project together. Thus, I offered to create The Naked Room.
 
Maria Lanko / Liza German:  
We have been working together as a curatorial team “German-Lanko” ever since we completed a two-year course “Curatorial Platform” at the PinchukArtCentre in 2014. Before collaborating with Marc, we worked in the non-commercial sector and never thought of running a commercial gallery, but always wanted to contribute to the art ecosystem of Ukraine.
 
We met Marc through our common friend Dana Pavlychko. He was interested in the sphere of contemporary art in Ukraine and was looking for someone who could acquaint him with this sphere. Dana suggested us as candidates. After talking and negotiating, Marc offered us to open a commercial gallery together. It was unexpected, but we were ready to tackle something new, so we welcomed the challenge.

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Entrance to The Naked Room Gallery. Photo by Yevgen Nikiforov

2. For the past five years, Kyiv has experienced a “gallery boom” – it seems that there is a gallery on every corner. How do you manage to stand out from the crowd? 
 
M. L. / L. G.:
Primarily, due to our curatorial practices. We are not just interested in showcasing the latest artworks, but also engage in a curatorial dialogue. We exhibit artists, who come from the same generation as we do and whose work we admire, and who mirror current events in the most relevant and adequate way. Additionally, we have a small, yet incredibly involved team, which enables us to act quickly and decisively. We are more flexible in our planning and our spacing. On our fifty square metres we can create a more immersive environment for the viewer. Intimate. Profound. We really enjoy watching visitors who spend an hour or more at the exhibition. 

 

In Ukraine there still persists a stereotype that commercial galleries are inherently bad, because they “sell” artists. Also, that it’s a sterile, uninviting space, which one enters, fearing to appear simple-minded. Our gallery, on the other hand, has its own small bar where we play music and an immaculate selection of books in our book corner by IST Publishing [an independent book publisher, specializing in art and critical theory], apart from an exhibition space. We integrate different formats under one roof, which means there are more reasons to visit our establishment.

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Exhibition space of The Naked Room Gallery. Photo by Yevgen Nikiforov

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Exhibition space of The Naked Room Gallery. Photo by Yevgen Nikiforov

We maintain a public pricing policy. Our gallery always has an available price list – there is no need to ask “How much is this? And this?” in hushed tones. Also, instead of competing with our colleagues and public institutions, we collaborate with them. I think it’s crucial that we agreed beforehand that we are not rivals and that each of us contributes [to the art sphere] in one way or another. We agreed not to argue over who comes first or second, or who is the “most important player”. Our common goal is to advance Ukrainian art into the international arena.
 
We have two main principles when it concerns running our gallery. First – we respect artists with whom we work. This entails fair and transparent working conditions, diligent curatorial work, professional level of showcasing artist’s work and granting institutional support for the artists represented by the gallery. Second – we respect collectors, both experienced and novice. We guarantee a fair price formation and a fair price for an artist's work.

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Bar and a book corner in TNR. Photo by Yevgen Nikiforov

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Selection of books by IST Publishing in TNR. Photo by Yevgen Nikiforov

3. Recently your gallery has been chosen to represent Ukraine at the 59th Venice Biennale, which I sincerely congratulate you with! How was the project selected and based on what criteria?
 
M. L. / L. G.: Thank you very much. “Fountain of Exhaustion. High Water” by Pavlo Makov was selected by a special board [Board of la Biennale di Venezia] through a system of ranked voting. Since the Biennale is first and foremost an international event and united by a single theme, one of the criteria in the selection process was an idea of a future Biennale: representation of bodies and their metamorphoses, the relationship between individuals and technologies, and the connection between bodies and the Earth. Interweaving personal narratives into the fabric of existing global practices was the main deciding factor in the selection process.
 
“Fountain of Exhaustion” by Pavlo Makov raises issues, such as depletion of natural resources, alternations between floods and droughts, re-evaluation of the democratic system, social practices, connection between individuals and nature, as well as the artist’s role in an ever-changing world. A theme which can be traced throughout all of Makov’s practices is being in one place and observing its slightest changes over time. It happens to be one of the most meaningful ways to engage in a dialogue with the world. “Fountain of Exhaustion. High Water” is an attempt to discuss contemporaneity from a Ukrainian standpoint, with the intention to illustrate how the local is global.


4.  Marc, you’ve co-founded and initiated a number of successful projects in Kyiv, including TNR Gallery and the Kyivness vintage market. Your latest endeavor is the gourmet hub Reytarska Circle. Can you elaborate more on this project?
 
M-R. W.: Reytarska Circle is a gastro-community space. We brought together its top representatives, who, in turn, suggested a new framework for gourmet clients. Some of Reytarska Circle’s residents include Japan Hi (latest establishment of Misha and Dasha Katsuriny), Kometa eatery (founders of the Zigzag Café), March & Co patisserie, Fresh Black coffee shop and Nisha Deli bistro. Reytarska Circle is a place where very different people are working together, but where you don’t see them as different people, but as a family. The centre is located on 15 Reitarska Street and is open daily from 10 AM to 11 PM.

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Reytarska Circle gastro-community space. Photo from Circle's Facebook page

5. Marc, you moved to Kyiv ten years ago. It's one thing to visit a place for a vacation, it's another to live there full-time. In your opinion, what is the enduring appeal of Kyiv? 
 
M-R. W.: In other countries where I lived, it seemed that everything had been decided – it’s hard to add something new in Switzerland or New York. When the Revolution of Dignity took place in 2014, I already had a lot of friends in Kyiv and felt a strong emotional connection to Ukraine. I understood that building a new society here is a fundamental change. New York, in comparison, seemed dull.

In Kyiv I have encountered young idealists who dream of a better society, of true democratic and humanistic values. Of course, it’s a small group of people, I would even say an avant-garde group of people. But I think a part of any society is always determined by the avant-garde. I felt that in Kyiv I could be a part of changes in history, because they are occurring right now.

The Naked Room Gallery is open daily from 11 AM till 11 PM
21 Reitarska Street, Kyiv

Reitarska Circle is open daily from 10 AM – 11 PM
15 Reitarska Street

Interviewed, translated and edited by Anna Shevetovska

This interview has been edited for clarity

08.12.2021