Zimmerli Art Museum Extends Exhibition Dedicated to Post-Soviet Art Revival in Ukraine

The Zimmerli Art Museum has extended an exhibition of Ukrainian art dedicated to the country’s history of self-determination and resilience in response to renewed interest following the Russian invasion of the country that was once part of the Soviet Union.

The exhibition explores the inventive artistic styles of Ukrainian artists responding to a period of transition perestroika (restructuring) during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The exhibition highlights rediscovered stories and newly found freedoms that flourished against economic scarcity and ecological calamity as the country reasserted its identity in the 1980s and 1990s.

the exposure, Painting in Excess: The Kiev Art Revival, 1985–1993, will remain at the museum on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus until April 10.

“This exhibition captures and celebrates a moment of remarkable transformation in the art scene at the end of the USSR,” said guest curator Olena Martynyuk, born in Ukraine and titular an MA in Cultural Studies from the National Academy of Kyiv-Mohyla University (Kiev, Ukraine) and a PhD in Art History from Rutgers. “With the continuing devastation of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyiv was undergoing drastic changes. Emerging Ukrainian art has become a powerful agent in this transformation of the city from the provincial center of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic into a cultural capital.”

Excessive in its expressive manner and color, Kyivan’s painting of the late 1980s and early The 1990s produced a new quality in art, no longer defined by the dichotomy of official and unofficial art during the Soviet era (1922-1991). Simultaneously, Ukrainian artists discovered chapters of local history that had been suppressed or suppressed, as well as their exclusion for decades from the world’s library of art. Thus, allusions to ancient ruins and other remains of Western culture abound in Ukrainian painting. The museum is pleased to present perhaps the best-known work of this era, the mural work by Georgii Senchenko Sacred Landscape by Pieter Bruegel (1988), an oil rendering of Bruegel’s ink drawing The beekeepers and the birdhouse (1568). Restored for this exhibition, it had not been shown since the Moscow Youth exhibition in 1988, which for the first time presented the new Ukrainian art as a coherent stylistic and intellectual phenomenon.

A section of the exhibition focuses on the Painterly Preserve, a collective founded in 1992. Members of the group were preoccupied with the history of the forbidden Ukrainian avant-garde of the early 20th century – an unfinished business – and gravitated towards abstraction. Their formal explorations were often a gradual dissociation of the narrative and the subject of the painting. Midnight (1981) and Guest (1982), two oil paintings by Tiberiy Silvashi, the group’s unofficial leader, demonstrate the prevalence of the materiality of color that would soon overcome its rudimentary storytelling, moving into pure abstraction.

The exhibition also provides historical context with a selection of works by artists active in Kyiv in the 1960s and 1970s. They experienced varying degrees of recognition – and persecution – anticipating many topics and themes that became relevant to the generation that emerged in the 1980s. Some artists, including Alla Horska and Opanas Zalyvakha, explored the previously banned avant-garde tradition and spoke openly about communist injustices. Others have been identified as dissenting threats and have been kicked out of their jobs or imprisoned, and their art destroyed. Some, including Oleksandr Dubovyk, were deprived of state commissions and positions of power. Artists such as Valery Lamakh and Hryhorii Havrylenko practiced art entirely outside the system, in their private apartments with no public or institutional resources.

Excess paint also represents the culmination of an important international collaboration that brings together more than 60 works of art, most of which have never been exhibited in the United States. A selection of paintings and works on paper are drawn primarily from Zimmerli’s Norton and Nancy Dodge Nonconformist Art Collection of the Soviet Union, supplemented by loans from the Abramovych Foundation and a group of art collectors from Ukrainian art, facilitated by the support of the Tymofieyev Foundation. Moreover, it is a rare opportunity to exhibit together these 33 artists, many of whom are the best known of their generation in Ukraine: Oleksandr Babak, Oleksander Hnylytskyj, Oleg Holosiy, Anatoly Kryvolap, Mykola Matsenko, Kostiantyn Reunov, Oleksandr Roitburd, Arsen Savadov, Marina Skugareva, Oleg Tistol and Aleksander Zhyvotkov.

The exhibition is curated by guest curator Olena Martynyuk, with assistance from Julia Tulovsky, Zimmerli Curator of Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art.

Mildred D. Field