x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Billionaire launches prize to put Kiev on the world arts map

Victor Pinchuk announces The Future Generation prize, an art award intended to stand alongside the world's most prestigious.

"Financial crisis is the moment of truth for real collectors and true artists," the Ukrainian billionaire, oligarch and art collector Victor Pinchuk told Bloomberg News last week. "That's why we do the prize: to discover new talent." Pinchuk, 48, was in New York to announce The Future Generation Prize, an art award, intended to rank alongside The Turner Prize and the Hugo Boss Prize and open to artists from anywhere in the world provided they are under 35 years old, that will grant the winner $100,000 (Dh366,875) and a mentorship with a big art name such as Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons.

Judging the entries is a stellar line-up of notables including representatives of the Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, The Pompidou Centre and the Tate Modern as well as the designer Miuccia Prada and the pop star Elton John. "From my point of view, Elton has one of the best contemporary photography collections in the world," says Pinchuk, who, coincidentally, has shown John's collection at his PinchukArtCentre in Kiev, Ukraine.

Competitors will be able to apply online for the prize, which will be handed out every two years (applications are at www.futuregenerationartprize.org). Entries will be welcomed in January, a shortlist of 20 artists will be compiled by June and the winner announced next December. Pinchuk has stipulated that $40,000 of the prize money has to be spent on making new works of art. To further differentiate the award from its competitors, Pinchuk has introduced an X Factor-like vote to the proceedings: the public will be able to view artists' works online and vote for a People's Choice Award that doesn't carry a cash award.

"It's more democratic," Pinchuk says. This year Forbes.com declared that the industrialist was now the richest man in Ukraine (and the 294th richest man in the world), with an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion, having sold a bank earlier this year for $2.2bn. Originally an engineer specialising in metals, Perestroika allowed Pinchuk to build his company Interpipe Group into a major industrial force, supplying 13 per cent of the world's railway wheels.

Pinchuk also owns some major real estate. In 2008, his second wife, Elena Franchuk, the daughter of the former president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, bought them a house in Upper Phillimore Gardens, London, for £80m (Dh477m) - then the world's most expensive home. Pinchuk, who speaks Russian, Ukrainian and English, is a major art collector too, and probably contributed to the escalation in art prices before the crash in September.

In 2007 he paid $23.6m for Jeff Koons's Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold) at Sotheby's auction house and $11.8m for Koons's 2005 Diamond (Blue) at Christie's. But his favourite artist is Hirst. Among the Hirsts owned by Pinchuk are paintings of cancerous cells, and 13 canvases covered with flies and resin. But according to the Financial Times, Pinchuk's true genius is "befriending influential people". Steven Speilberg and Bill Clinton are pals (Pinchuk is a leading foreign contributor to the Clinton Global Initiative, the former president's foundation). Last year he paid Paul McCartney to perform a free concert in Ukraine to 500,000 people.

A generous philanthropist, the prize is not simply about Pinchuk being seen as an indulgent patron of the arts. He said he has launched the prize as part of his campaign to make Ukraine a player on the international stage - and, unofficially, himself a part of a community of civic-minded, international plutocrats. "For me it's very important to turn Kiev into one of the main centres of contemporary art in the world," Pinchuk told Bloomberg. "There is New York. There's London. And there will be Kiev. Everyone will come and say: 'Wow!'"

Will it work? Oleksandra Kuzhel, head of the country's state committee for regulatory policy and entrepreneurship, told Bloomberg news: "He has inspired other oligarchs to start exhibiting their collections. It has become prestigious. His international exhibitions advertise Ukraine around the world." But what will it do for art? Away from Pinchuk's rarefied universe, the art world is a different place. For Tim Fennell, the manager of emerging British artist Charming Baker, the prize sounds like a welcome opportunity to get his artist more exposure. If his artist wasn't over already 35.

"I suppose it's about marketing, but it's ageist," he said, sadly.