|Ukrainians take pride in their cultural tradition, which is part of a broader Slavic culture but retains a distinctive national flavour. The arts of Ukraine, being part of the European tradition, have been developing along the general European lines, retaining at the same time their own national character.|
|The twentieth century has been hard on Ukraine,
harder, probably, than on any other nation of Europe. Revolutions and wars, famines and
Bolshevik-led purposeful destruction of Ukrainian culture have taken their terrible toll
in human life and irremediable losses in culture. And yet, Ukraine has not succumbed under
these devastating blows, persevered and has become independent.
For over seventy years, from the early twenties to the early nineties, Ukraine, together with the rest of the Soviet Union of which it was part, was isolated from the rest of the world by the Iron Curtain, with very little (or distorted beyond recognition) information about the political, economic or art events getting in or out.
|Surprisingly enough, the arts had not died and
Ukraine had managed to stay within the general framework of European culture.
Bearing in mind the unfortunate fact that very little is known about Ukraine to the outside world, a group of enthusiasts put their heads and efforts together and produced a wonderful album: Mystetstvo Ukrayiny XX stolittya (“Art of Ukraine of the 20th century”). The album includes hundreds of illustrations of works of art created by over 500 artists of the fine and applied arts. Oleksandr Klymenko, an artist, Tamara Lee, an art critic (both of them producers and promoters of cultural projects, exhibitions and catalogues) provided the basic idea and brought together a number of art critics, culture figures, officials to secure the realization of their idea. President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma and the Cabinet of Ministers were asked to lend their moral support which they magnanimously did. The Ministry of Culture of Ukraine did not stay aside either, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Union of Artists of Ukraine, the National Arts Museum, the Academy of Arts of Ukraine and a number of other official and not so official bodies contributing their help. But the book of 352 pages with hundreds of high-quality plates on these pages costs a lot to publish and to a large extent it is thanks to Valeriy Mishchenko, president of the NIGMA Construction Company, the general sponsor of the project, that actual publication has been made possible.
The album traces Ukrainian art through all of the twentieth century, from its very beginning to its very end. Practically all the trends are represented, from socialist realism to avant-garde. The authors must be given credit for broad-mindedness in their approach to representing all the trends, without too much bias (I do not think a totally objective and unbiased treatment is possible in a wide-scope publication of this kind).
the general sponsor of the Ukrainian Art of the 20th Century
National Programme and
Pierre Cardin, a famous couturier.
|Each of sections of the album is prefaced by a review written by a prominent art historian or art critic. These reviews are not in-depth scholarly studies for the highbrow reader. They are rather vividly written accounts of the most important achievements and advances — or failures and regressions — of a given period. The album is divided into the following sections: Art Nouveau in Ukraine (better known as “art modern”); Ukrainian avant-garde art of the early twenties; the Spetsfond art of the late twenties (paintings that were put by the Soviet authorities in the Spetsfond — depositories with restricted access — for not complying with the requirements of the art of “socialist realism”); Totalitarian art of the thirties through the eighties; Painting of the second half of the twentieth century which was neither rejected nor completely accepted by the Soviet art establishment; Non-figurative painting of the same period which was not exhibited but continued to be created in the artists’ studios; Recent figurative painting; Religious art which has miraculously survived all the repressions and confiscations; Sculpture; Graphic art; Decorative and primitive art; Latest developments.|
|This last section presents a number of artists
who are known in Ukraine and abroad, among them Ihor Kopystyansky, Serhiy Svyatchenko,
Valentyn Popov, Oleh Pinchuk, Taras Polotayko, Oleksandr Klymenko. Each section presents
in a fairly comprehensive manner the major works most characteristic for the period
treated within this or that section.
A knowledgeable art-lover will make a lot of discoveries which are sure to impress him or her. Anybody who is just interested in art will find browsing the album a pleasure — so much colour, daring, tradition and talent. And for anyone with little knowledge of Ukraine looking through the album will be a stunning revelation — so much excellent art in a country at the mention of whose name many perplexed brows are still raised in the west. And for every reader it will be a sheer joy to leaf through the excellently printed album.
One wishes that publications of this kind were more frequent (one little comment though: unfortunately, the English language of the translation supplied in the album leaves much to be desired; hopefully, it will in no way diminish the general very favourable impression produced by the album).
A great job has been done to promote Ukrainian culture. The album is a definitive statement proclaiming lofty achievements of the Ukrainian arts.
A centre of contemporary art (8 Kostyolna St.) is to be unveiled soon in Kyiv which will no doubt promote further the development of the fine arts in Ukraine. The new centre will become a venue of international biennales.