Recently, the saying "There is nothing new under the sun" has acquired unexpected relevance in contemporary art. The scandal associated with the sculpture "Seated ballerina" by Jeff Koons caused unprecedented resonance among both fierce opponents and devoted fans of the work of the famous American artist. The statue was erected near the Rockefeller Center in New York and was exposed as being a close copy of the porcelain figurine of "Ballerina Lenochka" by the Ukrainian porcelain sculptor Oksana Zhnikrup (1931-1993). Artdependence Magazine met with the grandson of Oksana Zhnikrup, Maxim Lozovoy, who told us about his grandmother, what she was like according to family stories, about her fate and creative activity, about the sensation around Koons’ statue, and his own views on what’s the scandal.
Recently, the saying "There is nothing new under the sun" has acquired unexpected relevance in contemporary art. The scandal associated with the sculpture "Seated ballerina" by Jeff Koons caused unprecedented resonance among both fierce opponents and devoted fans of the work of the famous American artist. The statue was erected near the Rockefeller Center in New York and was exposed as being a close copy of the porcelain figurine of "Ballerina Lenochka" by the Ukrainian porcelain sculptor Oksana Zhnikrup (1931-1993). Relatives of Oksana Zhnikrup confirmed that they had signed a license agreement with Koons for the use of two statuettes (one of which is "The Ballerina Lenochka"), and thus denied plagiarism. But there still remain lots of unanswered ethical questions: can Jeff Koons be considered the author of "Seated Ballerina " using as a prototype (copy) of someone else's work? How honest should a creator be when promulgating the source of inspiration? How should art market participants react to such ‘borrowing’ of creative ideas? Finally, how many more discoveries are to be made?
But there was another side to the scandal. In the aftermath there was increased interest in the works of Oksana Zhnikrup and her descendants – the Lozovoy family, who continue the family’s artistic "porcelain" traditions.
Artdependence Magazine met with the grandson of Oksana Zhnikrup, Maxim Lozovoy, who told us about his grandmother, what she was like according to family stories, about her fate and creative activity, about the sensation around Koons’ statue, and his own views on what’s the scandal.
AD: Maxim, did you meet your grandmother? What do you know about her from personal conversations and stories from your grandfather (Vladislav Shcherbina (1926 - 2017, the famous Ukrainian sculptor of small forms) and mother (Leontyna Lozovaya, Ukrainian porcelain sculptor)?
ML: I was 20 days old when my grandmother died. What I know about her is a picture I made up from the numerous stories told about her by my parents and grandfather. Grandmother was born in 1931 in Chita. She was born into the family of an actress and engineer-technician. In 1937, during the Stalinist repressions, her father was shot. Since then, the family's wanderings began in the vastness of Russia, which brought them to Odessa, where my grandmother entered the Odessa Art College and met my grandfather. My grandfather graduated earlier, after graduation he was sent to the Baranovsky Porcelain Factory, and later, my grandmother followed him. In 1955, they moved together to Kiev and started working at the Kiev experimental ceramic and art factory (KEKHZ), soon becoming key figures there. My mother was born in 1958, in 1960 my grandmother and grandfather separated. From 1955 to 1987 she continued working at the same factory, and later she collaborated with ceramist Olga Rapay (they were best friends). For the last two years of her life, a serious illness did not allow her to engage in creative activities.
Portrait of Oksana Zhnikrup, provided by the family
Oksana Zhnikrup at work, provided by the family
As it seems to me, grandmother was a person who was not born in the right place or at the right time. She was very beautiful – on the outside and inside – and she was intended for a completely different life. Among her acquaintances was Paradzhanov (Sergei Paradzhanov, a Soviet film director, screenwriter and artist, winner of numerous film awards, Honored Artist of the Ukrainian and Armenian Soviet Republic), Gubarev (Alexander Gubarev, Ukrainian Honored Artist) and writer Viktor Nekrasov. She welcomed and hid several dissidents from Moscow when they came to Kiev. Grandmother was part of the creative elite that emerged during the thaw in the early 60's - she loved jazz and was always aware of all the novelties of Western cinema and art. In the artistic circles of Kiev she was adored, she was very kind and easy to talk to.
AD: And professionally, what kind of person was Oksana Zhnikrup?
ML: The production of porcelain requires serious technological equipment. In those years, this equipment existed only at a porcelain factory, only within the framework of which the porcelain sculptor could transform his ideas into material. The artist was required to create a certain number of works for mass production to fulfill their duty to the factory. The remaining time he could devote to his own artistic pursuits. My grandfather, for example, fulfilled the annual plan in a few months and for all the remaining time he could engage in creativity. Grandmother had a very careful approach to each sculpture and she worked slowly, so there was not much left from her creative works. As grandfather told me - and I trust him unconditionally - my grandmother could become a great master: an extraordinary sense of plasticism singled her out among many sculptors. However, a soft character and lack of diligence prevented her talent from being revealed to the fullest. Possessing huge potential, she, unfortunately, did not use it until the end.
If we talk about my grandfather, he squeezed out the maximum productivity under any circumstances. After surviving the collapse of the Soviet Union and the years when porcelain factories closed one by one, he switched to chamotte and bronze in the 90s. This is one of the most interesting periods of his work. In 2000, he was able to return to working with porcelain, independently creating his own workshop.
Oksana Zhnikrup, Beach girl, Source
Oksana Zhnikrup, Debut, Source
Oksana Zhnikrup, Princess, Source
AD: Were most famous works of Oksana Zhnikrup, such as the ballet series, made at the request of the Kiev Experimental Ceramics and Art Factory, or are they the result of her own creativity?
ML: There were never specific tasks, the artist himself usually chose the topics for his works. The dynamics of dance and the plasticity of the female body were favorite themes for my grandmother. The only limitation was the complexity of the sculpture. Mass production dictated its conditions. The quota items often differ from the author's own work by simplicity of painting and poor detailing.
AD: Are there many author’s copies or sketches left from the work of Oksana Zhnikrup?
ML: There are very few author’s copies left. She loved to give away her works to numerous friends. No sketches remain at all. At some point my grandmother destroyed everything. Why? I think first of all because of not being able to realize the work creatively, and also because of some complex personal experiences.
AD: Who asked you to sign a license agreement for the work of Oksana Zhnikrup?
ML: Representatives of Jeff Koons appealed to us in 2010. They came to our family thanks to their relations with the successors of the Kiev Experimental Ceramic and Art Factory, which closed in 2006.
Before buying the rights to use the works of Oksana Zhnikrup, the representatives of Koons had already signed a similar contract with the successors of the plant. Therefore, if our family had refused, I don’t think it would have changed a lot.
On our side, my mother, her only daughter and heiress, signed the contract for the use of Oksana Zhnikrup's two works ("Balerina Lenochka" and "Ballerinas before performance"). The contract was accompanied by photographs of statuettes, their technical characteristics, sizes, describing almost any manipulation that Koons could do with these works (including full copying). We found no reason not to agree with the terms of the contract and the price offered, so we signed it.
Oksana Zhnikrup (1931-1993), Ballerina Lenochka. Source
Jeff Koons, ‘Seated Ballerina'. Source
Oksana Zhnikrup, Ballerinas before Performance. Porcelain, 1960s Source
Jeff Koons, Ballerinas. Mirror-polished
AD: Are you not disappointed by the fact that the name of your grandmother as the author of the original work did not appear anywhere until this scandal arose and the details of the licensing agreement surfaced?
ML: No, it does not upset me. It is saddening that in the 24 years since the death of my grandmother the only interest in her work among the public and the Kiev artistic and intellectual establishment has occurred in connection with this scandal. For example, Roitburd (Alexander Roitburd, Ukrainian artist) has stated that Ukraine can make great PR of this and prove that we have art here. However, the state did not publish any books, did not hold any exhibitions, did not even issue a series of stamps (this is the least that can be done to honor the memory of the artist).
And another important factor: my grandfather worked at the factory from 1955 to 1989 and for a long period he was the main artist there but for his pension he was offered about $70. My grandmother's pension would have been even lower. In my opinion, such a reward for many years of work is absolutely humiliating, so I'm sure she herself would have agreed to a deal with Koons. The copy of the work, standing at the Rockefeller Center, probably would have made her smile. She had a great sense of humor.
It's also about intellectual honesty. Maybe it would be worthwhile for Mr. Roitburd to write a post about the work of my grandmother or grandfather in order to generate PR for Ukrainian art? He could write about the way my grandfather created innovative porcelain plastic compositions, or about how the porcelain factories were looted and closed.
AD: Maxim, tell us a little about yourself. What genre do you work in?
ML: My father is a painter, my mother, my grandmother and grandfather are sculptors, so creativity is in my blood. We are all completely different, but it so happened that everyone chose art as a sphere of activity.
I am a painter and a graphic artist. In recent years I have been engaged in porcelain painting. Grandfather left many forms - vases, decorative interior objects - and I'm happy that I have the opportunity to work with them. This is a tribute to my ancestors and the opportunity to preserve and multiply the legacy that my family created. I hope that someday the work of my grandmother will be in demand, not only in connection with the scandal around the name of Koons, but also because of its own independent artistic value.
Maxim Lozovoy, Samurai I
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