A museum of salo in Lviv – breaking stereoptypes with a slab of fat?

August 4th, 2011Katrina K

It is not often that I dine on phallus made out of pork fat, filled with dumplings.

'Pruten' Davida': salo, vareniki, boiled eggs and pickles.

But then it is not often that one visits a museum fully dedicated to a product that many people would feel rather repulsed about – pork fat, or in Ukraine, salo.

'Sho ne z'iym, to ponadkushuyu' (I can't manage another piece, but I'll perservere tasting/biting off). Ilya Levin.

To call this new space in Lviv (West of Ukraine) a museum is however inaccurate.
This is an art-gallery, a rotating exposition, a venue for things (and people) new and experimental. A vodka bar and a restaurant serving ‘food-art’ is an important part of the concept where everything could be a new material, source for an idea or a piece of art.

The new art space in Lviv: all about salo...or not really?

Similarly, to say that the place is ‘dedicated’ to salo – Ukrainian ‘national’ product of cured pork fat (on which read more here) is not quite correct.

Boris Berger, the mastermind behind this new glitzy and controversial enterprise, himself an artist, a publisher, a man of the world (a Jewish man living in Germany, I ought to add, originally from Lviv), explains to me that Salo is a brand.

Boris Berger, the salo-leader?

Salo could be a brand just like Pierre Cardin or Gucci. An umbrella , if you like, that gathers people of similar minds.
It is not about salo at all, he tells me quite bluntly, but about opening an art space that is inducive to new, creative juices, working with (or around) a material that has not been used before.
A callorific platform, I say, that is nutritious for older things to be digested in a new way, for new products to emerge.
SALO, in fact, Boris clarifies, stands for sila (power), aktivnost (activity, energy), lyubov (love) and obraznovanie (education). So these are fittingly grand aspirations for a place that advertises salo across the city as a brand for social change.


So, what is this place all about?

Well, the very first thing that meet you on entrance is the Largest in the world heart made out of salo.

The lard heart is in a glass box and it beats. The sign says ‘Salo is a concentrated energy, a quintessence of national values’. Indeed.

There are paintings and posters, that take world-famous images and add things (salo) to them…such as (my personal favourite):

'Potsilunok v salo' (kissing salo or in salo). Art group Fire Salomanders.

Or old-age anecdotes known to every Russian/Ukrainian/ex-Soviet, shown in a different light…
‘Tyu, cho yogo koshtuvati, salo yak salo!’ (ha, whats the point of trying(sampling) it, salo is salo!).

Or political/historical figures made out of lard – to be looked at, and then eaten (sometimes filled with vareniki, another Ukrainian national dish, dumplings stuffed with meat or veg)..

'Tete au tete' - figures made out of salo: as art objects and plates to eat.

 So, what the f… is the idea?

In Russian there’s a great word that describes well this enterprise I think – styob.

Styob is piss taking really, but it is not just a ha-ha joke. There is a clear thought behind the joke (although the thought may be quite multileveled and so not easily put into one sensence), irony, dark irony.

And of course a bit of provocation.

Taking Ukraine’s ‘national’ product (my quotes are intentional as I’m sure you understand) and ‘selling it’, as some locals fairly angrily told me, is done here quite on purpose.

You take the largest stereotype of Ukraine (aside from Chernobyl of course) and invert it. You play with it, you tressure it, put it on an altar, but also pollute it, blaspheme it.

Do I need to say that fucking about with stereotypes unsettles the very foundations of conservatism, of our fundumental beliefs that something IS just good, and that another thing IS just NOT good? It draws the attention to the long line of muddled reasons that have made something innately worthy, such as nationalism, patriotism, racism and many other sm’s…

Salo, lard is brilliant for such a cultural provocation of course, with its low culture, belly-level connotation. It’s both sexual and gluttonous. But salo is also a product that is highly nutritious, good for you, it lasts for many months and it saved many a family in long, harsh winters.

No good table, or social gathering could be without vodka and a few goodly slices of salo. It’s the very stuff of life.

Ukraine and salo.

Boris explains to me that the idea came to him whilst meditating, philosophising about the world – as it happanes, naturally…

Clearly, there is a healthy (?) doze of, what Russians call, epatage, here, a sort of a artistic provocation, with an aim to get a reaction. Pee-Ar, as locals say.

The museum has already seen many figures of Moscow and Kiev beau-monde visiting it, being seen in it, performing in it (the daddy, Grebenshikov anyone?). The guys who run the place are obviously beyond their poor studenty days and are more of a glamorous, cosmopolitan crowd under the influence operating within a firmly capitalist world, rather than pennyless dissidents, aiming to bring about some felt political change in a country that desperately needs it….

Nevertheless, Lviv and Ukraine is definitely in need of a space, art or otherwise, that breaks the norms. These are not my words by the way but of the young clientele of the Museum. 

‘Сало – это когда никто не ебёт мозги и есть немного денег на сало.’

‘Salo is when no one fucks you about and you’ve got a bit of money to buy salo’.

I like this well-publised Boris’s statement, which kinda brings me full circle – salo matters. It is not just a brand (and the museum-organisers know that). There are some very tangible reasons for salo to be what it is and to mean what it does. During the Orange revolution when diverse parts of the country split in many parts came together, the language, the dialects were different, but salo….salo was what everyone understood.

Salo is associaed with being handsomely well-off – not rich, but well-healed, with a full belly, when you can afford some headspace to think things beyound your four walls, or the boundaries of your country.

Long live salo, dare I say.


Address: Svobody avenue, 6/8, Lviv, Ukraine

The museum entrance is 40 hryvnas (about 4 pounds) that includes a guide aroung the gallary and a taster in the restaurant: 12 types of salo from different regions and countries plus some pickles and vodka.
After 6pm, the place operates as a normal bar/restaurant where you can just come in and sample such other salo dishes as ‘The ear of Van Gogh’, ‘Lips of Maryleen Monroe’ (salo with ice-cream) or ‘Reincarnation’ (a pig becoming salo, and salo becoming a pig)…
Also suchi are on offer, both made with salo and more usual, non sal0-related varities. A separate menu of completely un-salo related dishes is on offer too.
Footballs made out of salo are specifically being designed for Euro 2012.
The museum has a programme of poetry readings, slide-shows, gigs. Check their website, especially closer to September, to see what’s on.
  1. ken Albala says:

    Unbelievably fabulous! Ken

  2. Eugene says:

    SALO forever! Join/Enjoy SALO on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/salo.modern.art


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