Devotion to People and Art
A Conversation with Ukrainian Art Dealers Dr. Ann Glasova and Yurii Akimenko
by Elisia Kuhfuss
‘Life changes, and spheres of activity change, but they remain always devoted to People [and] Art, creators of beauty.’ – Dr. Ann Glasova
My favorite JKPeV project in 2022 was our German for Beginners course as part of Support Your Ukrainian Neighbor. Not only did Doreen, Magda, and I have fun developing a unique course curriculum and language learning games, but we had the chance to meet some of the Ukrainian refugees in our community who ranged in age from 8 to 80. Two participants who touched me, in particular, were business partners Dr. Ann Glasova and Yurii Akimenko from Odesa. Both experienced art dealers, Ann and Yurii combined their collections into one gallery Kandinsky in 2005. In the week leading up to Christmas, the three of us met at KulturCentrale for a friendly conversation.
Ann’s eyes sparkle with vibrancy and intelligence. She is outgoing and talkative. In contrast, her partner Yurii is quiet and reserved but he exudes kindness and warmth. He seems mostly content to let Ann do the talking with the occasional interruption, illustrating important points by showing me pictures taken from his phone.
Ann has a house by the Black Sea. Her voice has an unmistakable tinge of longing. Not an apartment but a house. She tells me of cliffs, man-made beaches, and people watching. In the summer the beaches are filled with sunbathers. The people stay all day and picnic next to the water. Above all, there are young people from all over the world. Ann believes the young people come to Odesa for freedom, liberty, and the arts and culture scene. It’s a scene she and Yurii know well and one whose very existence is in peril. As the war in Ukraine rages on, the artists are leaving. It’s hard to say if they’ll ever come back.
While I’m looking forward to my own Christmas vacation, Ann and Yurii have just gotten back from visiting Odesa for Hanukkah. They tell me of frequent power outages, the electricity having a habit of going out at inopportune times, such as during a wash cycle, leaving one left to wring out sopping piles of laundry by hand. Yurii shows me a color-coded timetable in white, gray, and black. White means there will be electricity at that time, gray means ‘maybe electricity’, and black means ‘no electricity’. They tell of children walking to school with flashlights. ‘Odesa is in darkness,’ Ann laments. ‘Not just darkness because it is winter, but in real darkness.’ They worry a lot about the future of Ukraine – their own personal futures intrinsically tied to it as well as the vulnerability of Ukraine’s children, youth, and artists.
‘It is not possible to be an artist in Ukraine now,’ says Ann. People do not have money for art when they do not have enough to eat and when their future is uncertain. People patron the arts in times of plenty, not scarcity. She and Yurii feel lost. Odesa will always be home, but the home they knew has changed and will likely never be the same.
‘No one ever wants to talk about the money side of art,’ says Ann. ‘But artists have to learn how to do it.’ Ann and Yurii know because they are experts in the field. Ann studied Art History at Odesa University later receiving her doctorate in Jewish History. When she was younger, she worked on archeological digs in Odesa, specializing in ancient Numismatics. Before the untimely closure of Kandinsky in February of last year, Ann and Yurii had made a business for themselves acting as advisors to both artists and collectors alike. Yurii provided the financial backing for his first collection with an inheritance from his family’s wine business.
As for collectors, the gallery owners can help them decide from a seemingly endless myriad of choices on what to collect. Ann and Yurii ask would-be collectors what is important to them, such as portraits, landscapes, particular artists, or locations. As for Ann, she is drawn to impressionistic works, especially those from Paris in the early 20th century. Ann isn’t just an Art Historian and collector, but an artist too. In her own work, Ann’s favorite medium is graphite. She says too much expression is lost in color. Paint can never be as pure as graphite.
Ann posing at JKPeV’s Full Moon Gallery. Behind her is an exhibit of some of Ann’s graphite works.
I ask them what it’s like to be Jewish and in Dresden as refugees. Ann admits that it’s a bit uncanny. Her ancestors once lived not far from Dresden in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. In 1821 the entire community resettled in Odesa, which had been a welcoming oasis for many Jewish families at the time. It is an odd twist of fate that the land that had once been hostile to Ann’s ancestors is now her place of refuge. Having lived much of their lives behind the Iron Curtain, Ann and Yurii feel additional ties to Dresden, the city having been a Mecca of sorts to soviet era artists, many of whose works Ann and Yurii now collect and feature. The culture and arts scene of Dresden and the Neustadt in particular remind Ann in many ways of Odesa. ‘I have this great connection to both cities,’ she says.
With the future of Odesa in question, Ann and Yurii talk of opening a new gallery in the Neustadt. They are currently enrolled in intensive German courses at the TU Dresden. They would like to highlight works from Jewish and Armenian artists living in Odesa as well as artists from Dresden. It is hard for them to change the course of their lives at their age, but Ann and Yurii emphasize the importance of putting one foot in front of the other and always moving forward regardless of what happens in life.
Ann and Yurii have participated in JKPeV’s projects Support Your Ukrainian Neighbors and Hannah as part of Jewish Week as well as contributed works of art for our annual Christmas Market. JKPeV is committed to supporting artists and refugees like Ann and Yurii. We are proud to help by safe keeping some of their gallery pieces until the day Ann and Yurii can reopen.