Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ukrainian Museum in East Village

New York’s East Village  historically, has been populated by immigrants from eastern Europe. Now it is a student neighborhood, tucked behind the Cooper Union School of Art and Design and New York University dorms. The new building of the Ukrainian  museum is located in the heart  of  East Village, at 222 East Sixth Street  (between 2nd & 3rd Avenues)

The Ukrainian Museum is the largest museum in the U.S. committed to acquiring, preserving, exhibiting, and interpreting articles of artistic or historic significance to the rich cultural heritage of Ukrainians. Museum  was founded in  1976 by the Ukrainian National Women's League of America - UNWLA.
The NCW of Ukraine had been a member of the International Council of Women( ICW)  since 1920, but was excluded from the ICW as a direct result of Ukraine's loss of national independence.  In 1928 during the ICW's General Assembly held in Washington, the Ukrainian delegation was not permitted to officially participate in the conference.



The Ukrainian National Women's League of America - UNWLA  was established in New York  by five Ukrainian women's associations in New York City and vicinity.  Since the beginning  the UNWLA has been organizing exhibits of Ukrainian folk art at American institutions with the goal of familiarizing the public with the diverse cultural heritage of Ukrainians.


In 1976 the League founded Ukrainian Museum. For many years, the museum was located   at 203 Second Avenue.  In 1985 the board of trustees of The Ukrainian Museum purchased a commercial building on East Sixth Street in New York City,   with the aim of rebuilding it into a modern museum facility.  In 2000 museum received a charity gift  of $3.5 million to begin construction of a new museum building.


The  gift  come  from  Mr.  Shklar who   is a prominent entrepreneur, investor, co-founder and former executive of several successful high-technology companies including Siebel Systems and Keynote Systems.  The new modern stone-and-brick building with a large glass central entryway  opened its doors in 2008.


There are three fantastic exhibitions this summer in the museum. 
The first one, on the main floor,  is   strikingly beautiful exhibition of stage and costume designs from early 20th-century.   The show    Staging the Ukrainian Avant-Garde of the 1910s and 1920s  displays 125 works by 13 artists from the collection of the Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema Arts of Ukraine in Kiev.  Two artists - Vadym Meller  (1884–1962) and  Anatol Petrytsky (1895-1964)   dominate the display.



Meller is perhaps the star of the show, with his colorful and dynamic costume designs for figures that appear to be moving even in static pose.  Meller  studied in Kiev, Munich and Paris, and lived in Moscow and Odessa before eventually settling in Kiev in 1919. In 1925, he won a gold medal at the International Exposition of Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris, leaving silver to Aleksandr Rodchenko for his design for a Workers’ club.  Petrytsky   made works based on more traditional, realistic representational models. He did not study abroad, but trained exclusively in Kiev.





Second floor of the museum is occupied by Petrykivka: The Soul of Ukraine - the exhibition of unique Ukrainian folk art organized by The Ukrainian Museum and the art collectors Yuri Mischenko and Natalie Pawlenko.  



Petrykivka is famous thanks to distinctive decorative painting that originated with the first settlers in the second half of the XVIII century.      Petrykivka (named after the funder, Zaporozhian cossack Petryk) is a village near Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. The earliest known samples of it dates back to the 17th century. 


In 2013 Petrykivka  was  included to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity  with definition "Petrykivka decorative painting as a phenomenon of the Ukrainian ornamental folk art".   Painting technique was turned into a brand, and “Petrykivka” logo was created.   


This art is rich in symbolism: the rooster stands for fire and spiritual awakening, while birds represent light, harmony and happiness. In folk belief, the paintings protect people from sorrow and evil. The exhibition includes 29 paintings by 17 artists, spanning four generations; each of the works is being shown for the first time in the United States.

The third exhibition in a big room in a basement is  "The Tales and Myths of Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern". Some of the  works of Ukranian  avant-garde artists were familiar to me,  I saw a lot of Petrykivka examples far long ago when I visited Kiev, but this  name    was completely unknown for me.



Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern  was born in 1962 in Kiev.  He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Moscow University and a Ph.D. in Jewish history from Brandeis University. He teaches Early Modern, Modern and East European Jewish history and Culture at Northwestern University. 


 Petrovsky-Shtern’s main fields of interest are history and literature, ranging from the Jewish Middle Ages to Hasidic folklore, from the prose of Gabriel Garcнa Mбrquez to the Ukrainian renaissance of the 1920s. His book "The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe" was the Winner of the 2014 National Jewish Book Award in History. 



The shtetl was home to two-thirds of East Europe’s Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet it has long been one of the most neglected and misunderstood chapters of the Jewish experience.   One of the pictures from the exhibition is on the cover of this book.


Petrovsky-Shtern’s color choices of red, black, and white reconstruct the predicament of the Ukrainian peasants and the contrast of emotional tensions: the harvest against a black swath of sky; the woman who embodies Ukraine with a few stalks of wheat; the children sitting down to eat their lunch.


 Petrovsky-Shtern paints in Pogrom in a Shtetl, against the background of tiny houses in a Jewish town, an enormous crocodile who uses its long, red body to reduce everything in its path to dust. In this way, Petrovsky-Shtern’s Jewish themes symbolize the universal and personified story of loss and tragedy.
Petrykivka: The Soul of Ukraine will close in the beginning of August, and other two  will work till September.