Modernisms in Ukraine at the Lower Belvedere

Pictures from the exhibition "In the Eye of the Storm" currently on display in the Viennese Belvedere

In the Eye of the Storm is an exploration of the Modernist movement in Ukraine, curated by Konstantin Akinsha and Katia Denysova together with Maryna Drobotiuk and Olena Kashuba-Volvach. The exhibition, which made its debut in 2023 at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza (Madrid), is currently on display in the Viennese Belvedere. Later in the year, In the Eye of the Storm will also be presented in the Royal Academy of Arts (London). 

The exhibition and the accompanying catalogue investigate the foundations of the Ukrainian avant-garde. The curators also demonstrate the backdrop of the Modernist movement in Ukraine. Its development was concurrent with the First World War, the dissolution of the Russian Empire, and the establishment of the short-lived Ukrainian People’s Republic, which was later seized by the Soviet Union. Ukrainian artists of the time engaged deeply with the socio-political realities of the era and experimented with various forms of art and literature. Moreover, by interacting with foreign artists and studying in such cities as Krakow, Munich and Paris, they expanded their artistic horizons beyond the traditional schools of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Visitors to the exhibition have the opportunity to explore works by leading artists of the era, such as Oleksandra Exter, Kostyantyn Piskorskyi, Fedir Krychevskyi, Vasyl Yermilov and Mykhailo Boichuk. The exhibition is designed in such a way as to highlight various cultural centers of Ukraine at that time – Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and Lviv. Particular attention is given to the Kultur Lige and the life of the Jewish community in Ukraine, as well as the work of émigré artists. Another spotlight of In the Eye of the Storm is the development of the Ukrainian theatre scene.  

As the name suggests, the Modernist movement in Ukraine is not only a story of a cultural renaissance, but also a struggle against first the Russian Empire, and later the Soviet Union.  As the Soviet policy of “Ukrainization” was coming to an end – with the XVI Biennale being its symbolic pinnacle – the Soviet authorities launched a campaign against Ukrainian “bourgeois nationalism”. Many of the artists featured in the exhibition catalogue, like Mykhailo Boichuk, were executed and their works hidden in the “spetsfond”, the “special secret holding” of what is now the National Art Museum of Ukraine, to keep their “counterrevolutionary formalist methods” from the public. In the late 20th century, at a time of revived interest in the Soviet avant-garde, works by Ukrainian artists were presented as Russian. Therefore, In the Eye of the Storm is an attempt to reclaim an influential chapter of Ukrainian and world art history. 

The exhibition will be presented in the Lower Belvedere from 23 February through 2 June 2024.