Celebrating the Ukrainian Avant-Garde
Chicago Cultural Center exhibits rare works by more than 70 modernists
By TIMOTHY INKLEBARGER, Staff Writer
Modern Ukrainian paintings and sculptures hidden away from Soviet police in the early 20th century are finally seeing the light of day at an exhibition running through the middle of October at the Chicago Cultural Center.
The exhibit, Crossroads: Modernism in Ukraine, 1910-1930, features more than 70 works by 21 artists of the Ukrainian avant-garde, many of whom were persecuted, jailed, or killed.
"These were largely works that haven't traveled even probably in Europe to exhibition in Paris or anywhere else," said Gregory Knight, deputy commissioner of visual art for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.
The exhibit is titled Crossroads in reference to the Western European influences the artists drew from-Italian Futurism, French Cubism, and Art Nouveau-when establishing their own styles. "One has to look hard to kind of find what is indigenous in a crossroads situation," Knight explained. Besides paintings, the exhibit includes Cubist-influenced sculpture and the abstract wooden assemblage of early Soviet-era Constructivism.
"Some of these artists are more celebrated and known as part of the Russian avant-garde because that's where their reputations were made after immigrating from the Ukraine," Knight said. "Others might have been Russian by birth, I guess, and chose to live in Ukraine or Kyiv later in life because the Soviet crackdown was slower to come there."
In Sharpening Saws, a piece painted in 1927 by Cubo-Futurist Aleksandr Bohomazov, workers are pictured using old techniques to prepare for the future. The vibrant colors and themes in the painting celebrating work and community are typical of the era.
"Ultimately it's talking about traditional working methods of using handsaws to split and create lumber, but then the suggestion in the background is kind of a utopian modern architecture," Knight said. "So its not like they are just building log cabins; they're actually kind of converting, if you will, the past of falling trees and creating lumber with old hand methods but with the suggestion of a modern world to come."
The Kiss, a painting from 1913 by Vsevolod Maksymovych, is derivative of 1907 and 1908 Art Nouveau paintings of the same title by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, one of Maksymovych's contemporaries.
Dairy-maid by Mykhailo Boichuk, uses a more primitive Eastern European iconic style with hints of Cubism, depicting a woman carrying a canister of milk through a forest. In the exhibition catalog, which is written in Ukrainian with English translations, University of Southern California art professor John Bowlt notes that Boichuk was accused of being a Ukrainian nationalist for highlighting Ukrainian motifs in his paintings and was "subsequently arrested and executed."
The collection also features works by Alexandra Exter, David Burliuk, Yasyl Yermylov, and Kazimir Malevich. The works were compiled by Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky and Dmytro Horbachov from the National Art Museum of Ukraine, the Museum of Folk Art of Ukraine, the Art Museum of Dnipropetrovsk, the Theatre Museum and private collections.
In the exhibition catalog Lobanov-Rostovsky notes that the exhibit, "provides contemporary artists with an opportunity to think about the past and about the legacy, which a miracle has preserved. Indeed, now is the time to contemplate the cultural future of a new Ukraine and for art historians and archivists to uncover a treasure long buried beneath the sands of time. I am fully convinced that, inevitably, a new and vibrant art in Ukraine will be built upon the territory of this rich, but neglected, legacy."
Knight said the exhibit also will feature a forum at 6 p.m. Sept. 27, that will draw parallels between Ukrainian art in the early 20th century and during its recent liberation as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"The forum will look at the Ukraine and the period of avant-garde period from 1910 to 1930 but also at the Orange Revolution that happened in the last three years in Ukraine or the changes since the Soviet era in the late '80s," Knight said.
Copyright 2006, Chicago Journal
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