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Ukrainian avant-garde art in Chicago
The First Major Exhibition of Early 20th Century Ukrainian Art in the U.S. came to the Chicago Cultural Centre in July 2006. It was on show until October.
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs announced the first major exhibition of early 20th century Ukrainian art in the United States. Crossroads: Modernism in Ukraine, 1910– 1930 was on display at the Chicago Cultural Center in the fourth floor Exhibit Hall. Admission to the exhibition was free.
This outstanding exhibit of 21 Ukrainian avant-garde artists included over 70 works gathered by Professor Dmytro Horbachov and Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky from the National Art Museum of Ukraine, the Theatre Museum, the Museum of Folk Art of Ukraine, the Art Museum of Dnipropetrovsk and private collections. Anatoliy Melnyk, General Director of the National Art Museum of Ukraine, provided organizational assistance in Ukraine and John Bowlt, Professor at the University of Southern California, served as editor of the exhibition catalogue.
The exhibition was organized by the Foundation for International Arts and Education with the National Art Museum of Ukraine. It was presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Kyiv Committee of the Chicago Sister Cities International Program. The national tour was sponsored by The Boeing Company, The Trust for Mutual Understanding, Nour USA Ltd., Konstantin Grigorishin and Aerosvit Airlines. Additional financial support has been provided by Oleksandr Tabalov, Mykola M. Shymone, Dean Buntrock and Chadbourne and Park, LLP. Principal sponsorship to the extraordinary exhibit in Chicago was provided by the Chicago based companies UA-TV Corporation, Hyatt International Corporation, the Heritage Foundation of First Security Federal Bank, Selfreliance Ukrainian American Federal Credit Union.
“Crossroads explores the role of Ukraine in the development of the avant-garde movement,” said Gregory Knight, Deputy Commissioner of Visual Arts of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. “It includes works by well-known artists like Kazimir Malevich, Alexandra Exter and David Burliuk and introduces American audiences to previously unknown Ukrainian artists including Vsevolod Maksymovych, Vasyl Yermylov and Oleksandr Bohomazov.”
The international avant-garde movement that reached its peak during the first three decades of the twentieth century included many influential and innovative artists from Ukraine. As elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, these artists were often persecuted and executed in the 1930s and their works were banned or destroyed. According to local experts, nearly 2,000 of these works were confiscated by the government during the late 1930s, and only 300 remain extant today. The Crossroads exhibition presented the best of these works, many of which had only recently been viewed outside of Ukraine.
The long awaited exhibition made a dramatic American debut on July 20 when approximately 300 persons attended the exhibit’s opening reception at the Chicago Cultural Centre. Chicago Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, the legendary Lois Weisberg, addressed the opening ceremony and stated, “I am delighted to see the works of these world renowned artists in Chicago. It is the first time that these works appear in the United States. These works are masterpieces of the twentieth century art. Every person who visits this exhibit will see the grandeur of Ukrainian culture.”
Deputy Chicago Commissioner of Visual Arts of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs Gregory Knight thanked those who initiated, organized, managed and financed it. “This exhibit of modern art from Ukraine opens the door to the art treasures of Ukraine which were banned and hidden all these years and to the Ukrainian artists whose names we have known and others whom we’ve learnt about for the first time,» said Knight.
Attending the Chicago opening was Ukrainian Minister of Culture Ihor Likhovy who introduced the exhibit with a letter of greetings from Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. President Yushchenko wrote, «The mutual efforts of the many individuals in Ukraine and the United States will allow thousands of viewers in the United States to familiarize themselves with another aspect of the art of Ukraine. This exhibit marks the beginning of a new era of cultural exchanges between Ukraine and the United States.”
Minister Likhovy added, “The artists who created these works represent a very difficult and sad era when Soviet repression resulted in their persecution and often death. It is difficult for us now to understand that art was the target of political repression, but these artists refused to cave in to pressure and left the world a significant contribution in the arts. I am grateful to the organizers who made this exhibit possible and to Mayor Richard and Mrs. Maggie Daley, who visited Kyiv last year and supported the project in Chicago.”
Accompanying Minister Ihor Likhovy from Kyiv to Chicago was Anatoly Melnyk, Director of the National Art Museum of Ukraine, Lyudmyla Kovalska, Deputy Director, as well as the museum’s restorers Tamara Gerzhan and Iryna Demydchuk. Also present at the opening ceremony were respected art historians Dmytro Horbachov and Prince Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky, who co-curated and assembled the unique exhibit. Doug Robinson provided restoration and installation expertise.
Other guests at the Chicago opening included Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Valery Kuchynsky and Ukrainian Consul General in Chicago Vasyl Korzhachenko.
Anatoliy Melnyk, Director of the National Art Museum of Ukraine, noted the exhibit’s impressive presentation and said, “It is an honour to present these masterpieces of avant-garde art to the public in the United States. It is time for the world to recognize Ukraine’s contribution to contemporary art.” It took years to find, identify, restore and gather these works.
In Chicago, the exhibit was presented by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Kyiv Committee of the Chicago Sister Cities International Program. Marta Farion, chairman of the Chicago Kyiv Sister Cities Committee, who served as the co-host of the opening with Gregory Knight, emphasized the historical significance of bringing these works to the United States. She noted the substantial contributions and support of numerous individuals among the professional staff and the significant resources of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “The sixteen years of exchanges and cooperation between Chicago and Kyiv made this opening possible,” Ms. Farion stated.
Forty thousand visitors viewed the exhibition. Brochures and information materials were printed and available free of charge to every visitor. A catalogue was published which included essays and beautiful reproductions of the works on display. The event was covered by major media publications in the United States.
The exhibition continues its U.S. tour and moves to the Ukrainian National Museum in New York City. It will be on show from November 4 till March 11, 2007.
Soon after its display in New York, the enlarged exhibition will be hosted by the National Art Museum of Ukraine in Kyiv. n
Photos have been provided by Chicago Kyiv Sister Cities Committee
Kiss by Vsevolod Maksymovych.
Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Ihor Likhovy
Masquerade by Vsevolod Maksymovych. 1913.