T h e U k r a i n i a n M u s e u m
222 East 6th Street (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) New York, NY 10003 212-228-0110
Wed. thru Sun. 11:30 am - 5:00 pm e-mail: info@UkrainianMuseum.org
PRESIDENTIAL COLLECTION ON VIEW
(New York City, December 1, 2006) The Ukrainian Museum in New York City is proud to present an exhibition that includes many objects from the private collection of the President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko. Entitled Ukrainian Sculpture and Icons; A History of Their Rescue, the exhibition features icons and religious sculptures, previously unseen in the United States, that had been rescued from destruction and preserved in private collections. The exhibition will open on December 13, 2006, and run through August 5, 2007 (extended!), in the Museum's new facility at 222 East 6th Street.
Presented in the exhibition are fifty-seven objects from the private collection of the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, as well as from the collections of Petro Honchar, Ihor Hryniv, Volodymyr Koziuk, Vasyl Vovkun and Lidia Lykhach. The exhibition is a cooperative endeavor between The Ukrainian Museum in New York City and the Ivan Honchar Museum, Rodovid Gallery, and V-Art in Ukraine.
The objects on exhibit date from the end of the 17th to the early 20th centuries and, for the most part, were created by folk artists. Among the objects are sculptures on religious themes such as depictions of the crucified Christ, angels, and saints. The elaborately decorated three-pronged candelabra known as triitsi are part of this show as well. The exhibition features icons that were produced in varied styles during this 200-year period in Ukrainian art history. As President Yushchenko explains, "The works of iconography and sculpture presented in this exhibition… are not just elements of sacral ritual: they are fundamental components of their historical context, of the social and economic changes occurring at that time, as well as the spiritual expression of the interplay of various cultures."
An important component of the exhibition is its accompanying 160-page, bilingual, illustrated catalogue in which art historians Oleh Sydor and Mykola Mozdyr discuss Ukrainian iconography and religious sculpture. Also in the catalogue is a revealing historical survey by Serhii Bilokin, Ph.D., describing the devastating systematic destruction of Ukraine's cultural heritage by the Soviet regime during the better part of the 20th century.
Since Ukraine proclaimed its independence in 1991, the country has experienced a revival of interest in its cultural heritage. Restorations of historical landmarks and public monuments are on the rise, as are the renovation of old churches and the building of new ones. Museums are reclaiming their prominence, and cultural patronage is finding acceptance once again.
Several of the icons on exhibit come from monastery or church-supported icon workshops and were used in church applications. Others icons were painted by non-professional village painters and were executed on wooden boards or homespun cloth. These types of icons were an integral part of village home life and had religious functions that were performed in the home and the community, thus playing a significant role in the lives of villagers. For example, a newborn would receive an icon as a gift, newlyweds were blessed with icons, and icons were placed in the coffins of the deceased. People prayed to icons before a long journey or during a difficult time in life.
The art of iconography is more than one thousand years old in Ukraine, and the art of religious and Christian painting during that time span formed unique characteristics that reflected a national cultural identity. This is evident in the massive number of icons that survived through the centuries, withstanding the turbulence of geopolitical changes on Ukrainian territory, which, due to its location, was subject to the influences of various cultures and the world's major religions. Most ancient icons were preserved in churches and villages farthest from the main trade routes and large cities. Although it was the custom to periodically refurbish, renew, or even replace icons and, in fact, entire iconostasis, many such artworks remained intact by being stored in church attics or bell towers.
In Ukrainian folk culture, religious wood sculpture was most prevalent in the Halychyna and Podillia regions of the country. This art form stems from two sources. One source consisted of folk craftsmen trained in cities or villages. For the most part, these craftsmen imitated professionals, adhering to their compositions and styles. The second source consisted of untrained folk craftsmen, whose work displays features of primitivism. It is unfortunate that very little primitive sculpture remains today; and one of the prime reasons is that, for a very long time, primitive art was not considered an accepted art form. Its preservation therefore received very little attention until modern times.
The themes and functions of folk wood sculptures were, in effect, ritualistic and carried with them the power of protection. An identifying characteristic of these sculptures is the personification of saints with features of simple people. An earthly quality was therefore projected in these works. Although some folk sculptures were displayed in churches, for the most part they were found in chapels, in cemeteries, and at roadsides.
The physical personification of saints was always a reflection of how people envisioned them. This is very clearly seen in another popular sculptural figure that of an angel. Because there was no developed iconographic blueprint for angels (nor were angels a developed image in folk culture), artists portrayed them as boys or girls, with wings or without, and dressed in various attires. Their faces, however, presented a unified vision - they were soft and round, with clear eyes. They also had luxuriant heads of hair.
Brief History of Art Collecting and Preservation in the Ukraine
Museums in Ukraine and the practice of collecting artworks both trace their origins to churches, monasteries, and royal treasuries, which had accumulated remarkable wealth during the first three centuries of Christianity in Ukraine (the 10th - 13th centuries). In later centuries the collections of the Cossack elite and those of the affluent merchant class served as stellar examples of collecting. In the 19th century the first museums were established in Ukraine, motivated by interests in antiquities and archaeology and based on very extensive private collections. In the 20th century, the Soviet policy of annihilation of Ukrainian's cultural heritage created a foundation of destruction, upon which the newly independent Ukraine is now attempting to rebuild and heal itself.
The exhibition Ukrainian Sculpture and Icons; A History of Their Rescue is a telling example of the vital resurgence of Ukraine's national cultural identity. It is also indicative of the importance of private collectors in the preservation of cultural treasures and in the building of museum collections. The Ukrainian Museum greatly respects and values private collectors, since its own collections have been built, for the most part, with gifts from private collections.
The mission of The Ukrainian Museum is to share the Ukrainian experience with the public through its exhibitions and educational programming. The Museum was founded in 1976 and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, in its new, modern facility, which opened in 2005.
The exhibition Ukrainian Sculpture and Icons: A History of Their Rescue is the second show from Ukraine presented in the new Ukrainian Museum building. Its current exhibition, Crossroads: Modernism in Ukraine 1910 -1930, opened to critical acclaim in November 2006. It is scheduled to be on view through April 29, 2007.
Ukrainian Sculpture and Icons: A History of Their Rescue
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