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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

On Ukrainian artists in Europe in the interwar period

Eighty years pass since the Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists was established
13 September, 2011 - 00:00

The 1920s-1930s became a period, when the creative work of Ukrainian artists, especially those who lived in Paris, was in blossoming. More private and group exhibits of Ukrainian artists were launched in the interwar period. Oleksii Hryshchenko and Mykola Hlushchenko were the first to open their private exhibits, they were followed by Kliment Redko, Issakhar Rybak et al. Due to the internationality of the Paris school, representatives of different countries could organize joint exhibitions at that time, but there were also national presentations.

In 1931, feeling the need to unite efforts for the sake of advancing of Ukrainian art in Europe, a group of artists, Sviatoslav Hordynsky, Pavlo Kovzhun, Yaroslav Muzyka, created an Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists in Lviv. It is worth mentioning that Western Ukraine at the time was not yet part of the Soviet Union, so Lviv, as a European city, maintained tight cultural liaisons with European capitals. Thus the association cooperated with the Ukrainian artists living in Paris and Prague. In the period of nine years (in 1939, when the World War II broke out Western Ukraine became part of the USSR), the founders of the organization achieved tangible results in presenting Ukrainian culture and its best representatives to the world, those included Mykhailo Andriienko (Paris), Mykola Butovych (Prague), Lev Hets (Sianok-Pszemysl), Mykola Hlushchenko (Paris). For example, the works of Andriienko, who belonged to the Association of the Independent Ukrainian Artists and tried himself in many streams and methods of pictorial arts (cubism, constructivism, surrealism, abstractionism), which did not, however, hide the Ukrainian content of his creative work, are being preserved in the museums of Paris, Vienna, and New York.

Overall, in the nine years of its existence the association held 14 exhibits, where Ukrainian artists from the US and Europe were on display, specifically the representatives of the Ukrainian “Parisian group,” Cracow’s Zarevo, Warsaw’s artistic group Spokii, and Studio of Plastic Art from Prague.

The association helped in opening many private exhibits of Ukrainian artists, such as Hets, Kulchytska, Hlushchenko, and Hryshchenko.

The publishing activity of the association also made an essential contribution to the development of Ukrainian art. The organization published eleven detailed catalogues of the exhibits, seven monographs about Ukrainian artists, as well as the magazine Mystetstvo (Art; 1932-36), which united talented critics and art experts.

“Ukrainians’s attempts to unite indicated that they were aware of the need for such an action and were eager to help each other, as well as to assist in bringing Ukrainian culture in the European context on the whole,” Vita Stusak writes in her work Ukrainian artists of Paris. 1900-1939, “the romantic patriotism, interest in politics and political indifference, dependence on the Soviet ideology and resistance against it, religiousness and total secularity along with the search of own style in art – such were the moods of the artists of interwar period.”

Hordynsky, one of the founders of the association, who took part in the international exhibits in Rome, Berlin, and Paris, known not only as a Ukrainian artist, but also as an art expert, poet, translator, and journalist, after the association ceased its existence, began to unite Ukrainian artists on his own. During the war he managed to unite nearly 400 artists and publish a catalogue, which for a long while remained by far the only encyclopedic reference about the life and oeuvre of Ukrainian artists. Somewhat later, in Munich Hordynsky founded the Union of Ukrainian Pictorial Artists, and after moving to the US, the Union of Ukrainian Artists of America. There he also organized a huge exhibit of American Ukrainian artists and published its catalogue, a kind of encyclopedia of Ukrainian painting in the US. Therefore it would be quite appropriate to say that he is an artist who entered the world program of art, having preserved his Ukrainian identity.

By Anna SLIESARIEVA. Photo replicas and materials from the album Ukrainian Artists in Paris. 1900-1939