The exhibition In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine, 1900–1930s presents ground-breaking art produced in Ukraine in the first decades of the 20th century, showcasing trends that range from figurative art to futurism and constructivism. In the most comprehensive survey of Ukrainian modern art to date – with many previously unseen works on loan from the National Art Museum of Ukraine, the Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema of Ukraine, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, and other private collections, the exhibition celebrates the dynamism and diversity of the artistic scene in Ukraine and recontextualizes the distinct role of Ukrainian artists within the broader European avant-garde.
The artworks on display made their way from Kyiv to Madrid’s Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in a secret convey, leaving Ukraine’s capital city early on November 15, 2022, just hours before what was to become one of the worst days of bombing in Kyiv since the beginning of the war. The trucks were packed in secrecy to safeguard the largest export of Ukraine’s cultural heritage to date and faced a treacherous journey as they passed through areas of unexpected heavy missile fire including the small town of Lviv and then on to the Polish Border at Rave-Russo, just as the missile that set the world on edge landed in Poland 50 km away. The convoy arrived safely at the National Museum Thyssen Bornemisza in Madrid on Sunday the 20st and remains the largest legal art transport from a war-torn country to date. The works will be on display in Madrid until April 2023, before the exhibition travels on to Cologne's Museum Ludwig.
The development of Ukrainian modernism took place against a complicated socio-political backdrop of collapsing empires, the First World War, the revolutions of 1917 with the ensuing Ukrainian War of Independence (1917–21), and the eventual creation of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The ruthless Stalinist repression against the Ukrainian intelligentsia led to the incarceration in the gulags and execution of writers, theatre directors and artists, while the Holodomor, the man-made famine of 1932–33, killed millions of Ukrainians.
Despite these tragic circumstances, Ukrainian art of the period lived through a true renaissance of creative experimentation. In the Eye of the Storm reclaims this essential –though little-known in the West– chapter of European modernism, displaying around 70 works in a full range of media, from oil paintings and sketches to collages, and theatre designs. Following a strict chronological order, the show presents works by masters of Ukrainian modernism, such as Oleksandr Bohomazov, Vasyl Yermilov, Viktor Palmov, and Anatol Petrytskyi. Exploring the polyphony of styles and identities, the exhibition includes neo-Byzantine paintings by the followers of Mykhailo Boichuk and experimental works by members of the Kultur Lige, who sought to promote their vision of contemporary Ukrainian and Yiddish art, respectively. It features pieces by Kazymyr Malevych and El Lissitzky, quintessential artists of the international avant-garde who worked in Ukraine and left a significant imprint on the development of the national art scene. The exhibition also showcases artworks of internationally renowned artists who were born and started their careers in Ukraine but became famous abroad, among them Alexandra Exter, Wladimir Baranoff-Rossiné, and Sonia Delaunay.
During the official opening of the exhibition the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the video address, where he said: "At this exhibition you can see Ukrainian art which was also created in terrible times for Ukraine and for all Europe in the tens 20th 30th years of the 20th century. Terror tried to conquer Europe then as it does now, terror tried to rule than as it does now. But just like in the 20th century humanity must win now. Just like then culture must win. The war for freedom cannot be fought by force of arms alone. That is why economic support matters. That is why truth must prevail. That is why more than ever we need to let us speak. To say what cannot be said in any other language but only in the art language. I believe this exhibition will tell you what Russia is trying to destroy by war now. I believe that this exhibition will tell you how much Ukraine is connected to Europe. I believe that this exhibition will show you why you should visit Ukraine when we will bring peace back."
Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, founder of Museums for Ukraine, stated: “It is becoming clearer day by day that Putin’s war against Ukraine is not only about stealing territory but it is also about controlling the nation’s narrative and its cultural heritage. This exhibition aims to recover the history of modernism in Ukraine and return it into the context of the development of both the national culture of Ukraine and of European art of the first half of the 20th century. As we watch history repeat itself, this exhibition is a powerful reminder of how close we are to another disaster.”
We would like to thank Kunstrans and hasenkamp group for their bravery and professionalism during the challenging transport from Kyiv to Madrid.
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Note to EditorsList of artists in the exhibition: Wladimir Baranoff-Rossiné, Oleksandr Bohomazov, Mykhailo Boichuk, Tymofii Boichuk, Davyd Burliuk, Volodymyr Burliuk, Sonia Delaunay, Marko Epshtein, Alexandra Exter, Kyrylo Hvozdyk, Mykola Kasperovych, Oleksandr Khvostenko-Khvostov, Borys Kosarev, El Lissitzky, Kazymyr Malevych, Vadym Meller, Ivan Padalka, Viktor Palmov, Anatol Petrytskyi, Issakhar Ber Ryback, Vasyl Sedliar, Manuil Shekhtman, Oleksandr Syrotenko, Kostiantyn Yeleva, Vasyl Yermilov, Semen Yoffe.
About Konstantin AkinshaAn independent art historian, curator, and journalist, Konstantin Akinsha received the Georg Polk Award for cultural reporting in 1991. His curatorial projects include "Russian Modernism: Cross- Currents of German and Russian Art, 1907–1917" (Neue Galerie, New York, 2015), "Permanent Revolution: Ukrainian Art Today" (Ludwig Museum, Budapest, 2018), and "Between Fire and Fire: Ukrainian Art Now" (Semperdepot, Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna, 2019). Akinsha is the founding director of the Avant-Garde Art Research Project (UK) and the author of several books, including Beautiful Loot: The Soviet Plunder of Europe's Art Treasures (1995).
About Katia DenysovaA PhD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Her research investigates the influence of socio-political factors on early 20th-century art in Ukraine. She has contributed to the H- SHERA, ArtHist and Dash Arts podcast series, and the journals Arts, Art & the Public Sphere and immediations.
About Olena Kashuba-VolvachThe head of the Department of 19th and early 20th-Century Art at the National Art Museum of Ukraine (NAMU). She holds a PhD in art history from the Institute of Art Studies, Folklore and Ethnology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and was the senior research fellow at the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine. She is the author of numerous articles and has published several books, including Oleksandr Bohomazov: A Self-Portrait (2012), The Ukrainian Academy of Art: A Brief History (2015) and Art Pages of the New Generation, 1927–1930 (2016). In 2019–20, Kashuba-Volvach curated the multi-venue exhibition “Oleksandr Bohomazov: The Artistic Laboratory”.
About Museo Nacional Thyssen-BornemiszaThe Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza houses one of the finest and most varied collections of Western painting. Van Eyck, Dürer, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Monet, Degas, Morisot, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Kirchner, Kandinsky, Goncharova, O'Keeffe, Hopper, Dalí, and Pollock are just some of the names on the long list of great masters represented in its holdings. Acquired by the Spanish state in 1993, the privately assembled Thyssen- Bornemisza Collection was designed from the outset to be as broad-ranging as that of a museum. Its encyclopaedic holdings provide an overview of Western painting and span most European and American styles from the fourteenth to the twentieth century. Even though the paintings were purchased over the course of THREE generations and number no more than a thousand, a large proportion of them are masterpieces.
About Museums for UkraineMuseums for Ukraine is an urgent initiative formed to protect, preserve, and celebrate the cultural objects and collections of Ukraine. Founded by Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza and supported by leading European and international museums, galleries, as well as prominent curators and partners, the coalition has two core objectives: to protect and preserve the cultural objects and museum collections in Ukraine, and to call on European and other international museums to organise exhibitions, performances, readings, and screenings of artistic works from Ukraine, in a show of solidarity.
About Francesca Thyssen-BornemiszaFounder and Chair of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), Francesca Thyssen- Bornemisza is an activist, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. Driven by a belief in the power of art to serve as an agent of change, Thyssen-Bornemisza has supported artists throughout her career in the production and creation of new work that fuels engagement with the most pressing issues of our times. Her sustained commitment to the cultural realm extends a long tradition of collecting and philanthropy in the Thyssen family that dates back generations. In March 2022 she founded Museums for Ukraine with a coalition of museum professionals and supporters.
About PinchukArtCentreThe PinchukArtCentre was founded in September 2006 by businessman and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk. It is one the largest and most dynamic private contemporary art centres in Central and Eastern Europe. With over 3 million visitors, the PinchukArtCentre has become an international hub for contemporary art, developing the Ukrainian art scene while generating critical public discourse for society as a whole.
For over 15 years, the PinchukArtCentre has provided free access to new ideas, perceptions and emotions. Its exhibition program investigates national identity in the context of international challenges. It engages the public in a dynamic dialogue through a full range of educational and discursive events.
In 2016, the PinchukArtCentre launched Research Platform as a pioneering project that aims to generate a living archive of Ukrainian art from the early 1980s through to the present. The research is regularly shared with the public through exhibitions, publications, and discussions.
Simultaneously, the PinchukArtCentre invests in the next generation though the Future Generation Art Prize and the PinchukArtCentre Prize, awards for young contemporary artists aged 35 or younger. These prizes have made the institution a leading centre for the best emerging artists worldwide while empowering a new generation in Ukraine.