The exposition comprises almost the entire legacy of Mykhailo Boichuk and his school as well as videos that reconstruct the frescoes known from newspaper black-and-white photos of the 1920s-1930s.
“Do not be afraid to lose your individuality. Watch those who work better. You should not be afraid to borrow from others, but you should try to do it better. Individuality will emerge by itself when the master turns mature,” Boichuk used to say. And here is another of his dictums: “Although the old masters are dead, their ever-young art is living, and the artist who looks upon the art of the past as archeology is wrong. A completed artwork is the ever-lasting truth, not archeology.”
Mykhailo was one of the seven children in an ordinary family at a remote Galician village of Romanivka. Struck by the power of the young artist’s talent, Metropolitan Sheptytsky helped pay for his studies in Vienna, the Krakow Academy of Arts, and Munich. In 1907 Boichuk moved to Paris to be taught by Paul Serusier at the Academie Ranson. He founded a school-studio of his own there in 1909. Mykola Kasperovych, Sophia Nalepinska, Sophia Baudouin de Courtenay, and others became his like-minded pupils. Frenchmen called them “Renovation Byzantine,” while “Boichukism” is a Soviet label that caught on. The studio caused a furor at the Salon d’Automne (1909) and the Salon des Independants (1910) in Paris. But once Boichuk returned to Lviv in 1911, the group broke up.
OLEKSANDR SAIENKO, THE PORTRAIT OF MATRONA SAIENKO, 1922
“If Boichuk had spent a few more years in Europe, we would perhaps have had the world-famous ‘Byzantine’ style which is as much recognized and respected as impressionism,” says Yaroslav KRAVCHENKO, an art critic, a well-known researcher of Boichukism, the son of the “last Boichukist” Okhrim Kravchenko who cherished the traditions of his art school throughout his lifetime. “This was a ‘banned’ art when Boichuk was alive. On the orders of officials, Boichuk’s pictures were still being burned as ‘anti-Soviet and nationalist’ in the early 1950s in Lviv.” (As a token of those times, some pictures by various authors at Mystetskyi Arsenal bear the ‘scars’ of ground, even acid-eaten, paint. It is impossible to restore them.)
Reflecting on the “style,” Kravchenko means a very well-known culturological concept. Experts single out three waves of “grand style” in the history of Ukrainian culture: 1) the period of Ancient Rus’; 2) the baroque epoch; and 3) the period between the beginning and the first third of the 20th century, when a new generation of Ukrainians sought ways to create a new, modern, Ukrainian nation (which ended up with the “Executed Renaissance”).
OLEKSANDR SAIENKO, REAPING A HARVEST, 1920
“For me, ‘Boichukism: a ‘Grand Style’ Project’ is a story of an attempt to modernize Ukraine. We are now trying again to ‘enter Europe.’ If we keep our own history in mind, we’ll be able to avoid mistakes,” Olha MELNYK, chief of Mystetskyi Arsenal’s museum section and the exhibit co-curator, comments, almost in unison with Kravchenko, on the exhibit’s concept.
In the year of preparing Ukraine’s first – since 1990 – big research exposition of Boichukists, Mystetskyi Arsenal has drawn almost all of this country’s leading museums and archives as well as private collectors into the project (only the National History Museum of Ukraine “distinguished itself” by refusing to give a very important item).
Over 300 paintings, graphic and mosaic works by Mykhailo and Tymofii Boichuk, Vasyl Sedliar, Ivan Padalka, Sophia Nalepynska, Oksana Pavlenko, Antonina Ivanova, Mykola Rokytsky, Serhii Kolos, and Okhrim Kravchenko create an incredible impression. What deserves a special discussion is the scenography and puppet theater of the Boichukists, an almost unknown thing to the general public.
Yet the exhibit is about the destiny of works rather than about the real life of artists. Composition-wise, the mega collection is divided between two halls. The first comprises the works that show the search for an original style by Boichuk and his like-minded pupils. The second is about the blossom and the decline of the Boichukist movement. You can judge about changes in the life of the country and the artists themselves by changes in their oeuvre – works become more schematic and their themes – more ideologized.
Boichuk was arrested on November 25, 1936. He was shot on July 13, 1937, in Kyiv together with Padalka and Sedliar. Nalepynska-Boichuk was also executed on December 11 of the same year as a “spy” and “the wife of the leader of a nationalist terrorist organization among artists.” (The remnants of only three murals of the Boichuk school have survived in Ukraine, but even museum people still have no access to them.)
The exhibit “Boichukism: a ‘Grand Style’ Project” will remain open until January 28.