Stolen by Russia 2: Ukrainian avant-garde

Stolen by Russia is a project-military campaign for our cultural heritage. Ukraine has always been a cultural donor to Russia and for centuries it has been supplying the metropolis with its best artistic works, as well as talents. And Russia shamelessly appropriated everything it could get, from toilets to museum treasures. That is why we are starting the process of returning our cultural heritage.

Russia has appropriated our history and self-name, our cultural figures and their creative legacy and even entire artistic trends. It continues to plunder our churches and museums. One of the trends appropriated by Russia is avant-garde, which is known in the world as "Russian". But one has only to look at the creative biographies of its most prominent representatives to realize that it was Ukraine that made a phenomenal contribution to world culture. So it's time to change the signs in museums.

The Ukrainian avant-garde is an artistic movement of 1910-1930 that synthesizes European modernism and the traditions of Ukrainian folk art. The term "Ukrainian avant-garde" was first coined by the French art critic Andrei Nakov for the exhibition Tatlin's Dream, held in London in 1973. That was the first time the West saw the paintings of the unknown Ukrainian avant-garde artists Vasyl Yermylov and Oleksandr Bohomazov. This event reminded Europe of well-known artists who were connected with Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa by their origin, upbringing, self-awareness and national traditions, such as 

David Burliuk from Slobozhanshchyna (Eastern Ukraine), the singer of futurism, Kazimir Malevich, the founder of Suprematism, a Kyivan, a professor at the Kyiv Art Institute, a bandura player, Volodymyr Tatlin, a Kharkiv resident, Oleksandra Ekster, the founder of the Ukrainian school of constructivist scenography, or, finally, the world phenomenon Oleksandr Arkhypenko, who was inspired by the magic of Trypillian culture, the archaic Polovtsian women, the mosaics of St. Sophia of Kyiv, and folk ceramics.  

The first abstract work appeared in Ukraine - a drawing by Vasyl Kandinsky on the cover of the art catalog "Izdebsky's Salon 2" (1910). The first international exhibition of the avant-garde was also held in Ukraine for the first time, in Odesa and Kyiv. 

According to the prominent Ukrainian scientist Vernadsky, "the avant-garde is an immersion in a deep spiritual experience, where a person feels like a bundle of cosmic energy, not a small suffering creature." And Ukrainians contributed to this universal spiritual and artistic leap of the early twentieth century, while not losing their "ancestral" characteristics  –  the Ukrainian avant-garde simply vibrates with the sacredness of the ancient Ruthenian icon and the vital force of Ukrainian folk art.

Kazymyr Malevych (1879 - 1935)

A Ukrainian avant-garde artist of Polish background, a prominent figure of the Ukrainian avant-garde who synthesized European modernism with the traditional art of Ukraine, the founder of Suprematism, the author of the legendary Black Square, a manifesto of non-objective art.

He was born in Kyiv. As a child, spent a lot of time in villages in Podillia, Kharkiv, and Chernihiv regions, where he got to know the culture of the Ukrainian countryside. He studied painting at Mykola Pymonenko's Art School in Kyiv. He greatly respected his first teacher – several of Malevich's later works were an homage to Pymonenko. Already being the patriarch of Suprematism, he created abstract compositions for the embroideries of the artistic artel organised in the village of Verbivka. In 1927-1930, he taught at the Kyiv Art Institute, wrote articles for the Kharkiv magazine "New Generation", prepared a personal exhibition in Kyiv in 1930.

In his autobiography, Malevych called himself a Ukrainian. He often wrote letters in Ukrainian surzhyk (mixture of Ukrainian and Russian languages), interspersed with Polish. A number of his paintings and graphic works reflect on the tragic themes of the famine in the Ukraine Holodomor, their coloristic specificity is explained by the influence of Ukrainian peasant life.

Vasyl Kandinsky (1866-1944)

The first abstractionist in the world. Painter, graphic artist, art theorist.
At the age of 5, Vasyl Kandinsky moved with his family to Odesa, where he studied at a gymnasium and a music school, which is why melody and rhythm are always present in his works. He received his first artistic education at Mykola Pymonenko's classes  at the Kyiv drawing school of Mykola Murashko

In December 1909, an international exhibition was held in Izdebskyi's salon in Odesa, where Kandinsky presented his first compositions, in which the elements of the visual world were almost impossible to guess. In this way, he was approaching the invention of abstractionism. 

His first abstract work was also published in Ukraine - in 1910, he published a pencil drawing on the cover of the "Izdebsky's Salons" exhibition catalog, which is considered to be the symbolic beginning of abstract thinking in visual art. He was an art theorist, substantiated the principles of the new artistic movement of abstractionism, and published some of his articles in Odesa.

David Burliuk (1882 - 1967)

Ukrainian futurist painter, poet, art theorist, literary and art critic, and publisher. He was one of the main creators of Ukrainian modernism in the early twentieth century. He is known as the leader of national futurism.

Born in the village of Semyrotivka, Lebedyn district, Kharkiv province (now Burliuk tract, Sumy region). He was of Cossack descent, which he was very proud of all his life. "Ukraine has the most faithful son in my person," he said, and here is the evidence: 

"On my father's side, we are Ukrainian Cossacks, descendants of Zaporozhci. Our street nickname is Pysarchuks (secretary), we were clerks of the Zaporozhian army. Of all the writers, I knew Mykola Gogol the best, having memorized many passages from him. Taras Shevchenko in Ukrainian was usually read to us by my father. Reading always ended in tears. In 1915, I painted a picture called Sviatoslav (Ruthenian knyaz-king), in the style of ancient Ukrainian painting. My coloring is deeply national. Yellow-hot, green-yellow, red, and blue tones are like Niagara waters from under my brush... In my life I have painted many Ukrainian basque horses. And I could be, to paraphrase Herodotus, "the singer of mares."

Burliuk studied at the Odesa Art School. Even here, the artist's great ability to work was manifested - during his summer practice, he painted 350 sketch landscapes of the Kherson region. Subsequently, he continued his studies in Munich and Paris. Together with Oleksandra Exter, he organized the first exhibition of leftist artists in Ukraine, Zveno (Link), in a merchant's shop on Khreshchatyk street in Kyiv. 

David Burliuk became an ideologue of futurism in both painting and literature (he was friends with Mayakovsky). He presented himself as a "Tatar-Zaporizhzhia futurist". This new poetic and artistic school was proclaimed and declared thanks to Burliuk's energy and boundless initiative – he actively participated in the performances of the Futurists, combining the roles of theorist, poet, artist, and critic.

He was probably the first in the history of modernism to publicly demonstrate body art on his own face with drawings taken from samples of Trypillian culture that he saw on artifacts from the excavations of Vikentiy Khvoyka. Among the artist's paintings are works dedicated to his homeland, Ukraine: "Sviatoslav", "Cossacks on the march", "Cossack Mamai", "Fishermen", "Taras Shevchenko".

Sonia Delaunay (1885 - 1979)

Ukrainian artist and designer of Jewish origin, representative of the Art Deco movement. She is immortalized on the Heritage Floor – a famous installation dedicated to women who changed the world.

Sara Eliyevna Stern (maiden name) was born in Kremenchuk district, Poltava province. She spent her childhood in Odesa. This is perhaps the only fact that connects the artist with Ukraine, but to which she attached special importance: "I love bright colors," Delaunay wrote in her memoirs We Go to the Sun, "these are the colors of my childhood, the colors of Ukraine." 

Sonia's parents died very young. She was adopted by her maternal uncle, who soon moved from Odesa to St. Petersburg, where he had a law practice. Thus, he was able to provide Sonya with an excellent education and upbringing. Sonya studied in Karlsruhe (Germany) and later settled in Paris. In 1913, a friend of the Delaunay family, poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire used the term Orphism to describe Cubism as seen by Delaunay. This new artistic movement reminded him of the transformation of the world by Orpheus, the creator of new aesthetic worlds. Delaunay wrote memoirs about her friends Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso. This list also includes recognized Ukrainian artists, such as her close friend Oleksandra Ekster, the founder of abstractionism Vasyl Kandinsky, and the brilliant Ukrainian sculptor Oleksandr Arkhypenko.

Almost all exhibitions of abstract art in postwar Europe featured Delaunay's works. In 1963, she donated 117 of her and her husband's works to France. A year later, the Louvre hosted a presentation of this huge gift and Sonia became the first woman artist to have a retrospective exhibition in the Louvre during her lifetime. In 1975, she was awarded the highest French honor, the Legion of Honor.

Oleksandra Ekster (1882-1949)

Ukrainian artist, stage designer, and teacher. A prominent representative of European Cubism and Futurism, one of the most prominent figures of the Ukrainian avant-garde, co-founder of the Art Deco style.

She lived in the center of Kyiv, studied at Mykola Pymonenko's Kyiv Art School together with Oleksandr Bohomazov and Oleksandr Arkhypenko, and privately visited the studio of Serhiy Svitoslavskyi

She exhibited her cubo-futuristic works, independently organizing exhibitions of experimental art - in 1908, together with Davyd Burliuk, the exhibition Link, in 1914, with Oleksandr Bohomazov - Ring. She created sketches of theater costumes in a new expressive style that was revolutionary for the time. It was in Kyiv that new principles of theater productions were born, where the role of light and lighting effects was strengthened, and the entire space of the stage was used. 

She started the first art studio-school in Kyiv, where she taught abstract art to children and adults. She encouraged her students to explore new approaches to painting, to create not with the help of a plot, but with the help of rhythms. Together with other Suprematist artists, she worked with peasant women in the artistic artel of Verbivka village. Oleksandra Exter was always fascinated by Ukrainian folk art-painting, ceramics, and embroidery. The famous Russian art critic Yakiv Tugendhold, one of the few researchers of the artist's work, wrote: "Exter's decorative instinct has never ceased. Her cubic canvases are always conceived as densely filled, evenly shaped carpets." In folk art, she was attracted to artistic freedom and expression, and most importantly, bright, rich color.

When she decided to emigrate to Paris, she took items from her Ukrainian home-embroidery, carpets, pottery, and bright majolica plates with her and kept them to the end of her life.

Volodymyr Tatlin (1885 - 1953)

Ukrainian painter, sculptor, designer, architect, founder of constructivism, one of the leaders of the world avant-garde.

He was born in Kharkiv, in the family of an engineer and a poetess. At the age of seven, he became interested in drawing and entered the Kharkiv Real School. Later, Tatlin ran away from home to Odesa and got a job as a seaman on a ship, then entered the Odesa School of Navigation. Tatlin was not very fond of being a sailor, his desire to become an artist still prevailed. In September 1905, he became a student of the Penza Art School, and in 1910 received a diploma in painting. His acquaintance with Ukrainian futurist artists and poets turned him to artistic modernism, and maritime themes would often appear in his work - sailors, fishmongers, fishermen. 

Among hobbies of the modernist Tatlin played the bandura (Ukrainian national string instrument) and even made this instrument with his own hands. In 1914, Tatlin accompanied an artisanal exhibition in Berlin as a bandura player. It was there that he had a remarkable adventure: Tatlin was invited to play the bandura in a park on the route of Kaiser Wilhelm II's escort. His playing and performance of Cossack dumas impressed the Kaiser so much that he presented him with a golden Kaiser's watch. Tatlin sold the watch and went to Paris, where he visited the studio of the great Pablo Picasso and was inspired by new ideas.

In the 1920s, Tatlin began designing household items - artistic design of clothes, dishes, and furniture, made the foundation for the development of his own school of designers. He was engaged in book graphics, illustrated the cover for the collection of poems by Ukrainian futurist poets Mykola Bazhan, Mykhailo Semenko, and Geo Shkurupiy "Meeting at the Crossroads." He worked as an illustrator for the Kyiv magazine Kino.

As a scenographer and costume designer, Volodymyr Tatlin participated in the production of the play "After Dawn" based on the play by Ukrainian writer Hzhytskyi, which was first staged in 1924 at the Kharkiv Theater and was a great success. He also worked with Les Kurbas, the director of the Berezol Theater, on the play Zangezi, in which he played three roles: director, production designer, and lead actor. He designed the play Haydamaky based on the poem by Taras Shevchenko. He was one of the founders of the Ukrainian children's theater.

Klyment Redko (1897 - 1956)

An outstanding Ukrainian artist, a prominent representative of the painting avant-garde of the 1920s - 1930s.

Klyment was born in the town of Kholm (now Chełm, Poland) and came from a family of peasants - his father died early, and his mother, to feed her children, painted images of Virgin Mary for village churches and chapels located on the border of Ukraine and Poland. He studied painting at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra with Ivan Yizhakevych, at the Ukrainian Academy of Arts with Mykhailo Boichuk, and in the Kyiv studio of Oleksandra Ekster. He created his paintings under the strong influence of Malevich's ideas – futurism and constructivism. He was a member of the Paris group of Ukrainian artists (Oleksa Hryshchenko, Mykola Hlushchenko, Mykhailo Andrienko-Nechytailo). 

In 1926, a personal exhibition of Klyment Redko was held in Moscow, after which he was sent to Paris by Anatoliy Lunacharsky (Communist political leader). Since then, his work has aroused great interest among French critics. He exhibited in Paris and made friends with Pablo Picasso.

texts by Diana Klochko, Yaryna Vynnytska
posters by Maria Bilinska

Author: Діана Клочко, Ярина Винницька

Фотограф/дизайнер: дизайнер Марія Білінська

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