Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Ukrainian Museum — From Dragoons to Donetsk

For many years The Ukrainian Museum  in Manhattan had been on my list to visit but one thing or another got in the way.  This trip there was an exhibit I really had to see Staging the Ukrainian Avant-Garde of the 1910s and 1920s 

Art Deco as always been one of my favorite periods of design but I wasn’t prepared to be dazzled by the costume designs created for the stage by these Ukrainian masters who were cutting edge in the 1910s and 20s.  Drawing elaborate and stark costumes for the ballet, opera, and theatre I saw designs that could be in fashion (haute couture fashion that is) today.

Frustratingly no photos were allowed, so I am reduced to what I can share from a few images captured online or in the gift shop…but I hope you get a flavor for the whimsy, geometric boldness, fanciful flourish of these outstanding creations.  One set of drawings was actually a collage of the costumes with the fabrics….and I loved that virtually all of the designers drew their character's shoes with quaint upturned toes — think the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz!

Fortunately this exhibit has been extended til October 14, so if you’re in New York, hurry to see it. [Check their website for hours, only open Wednesday to Sunday.]

Also fortunately were the other exhibits as well as the really elegant building where the museum has been housed for the past ten years.  A simple sweeping staircase takes you to the rather traditional displays of what one thinks of when they think Ukrainian…pysankas (painted eggs) and lovely, ornately floral images of men and women in their woods and gardens.  I found myself wondering why their palette is predominantly reds, oranges, greens and yellows…very little blue and never purples that I can recall.

Below see detail of this painting...the delicacy of a dandelion puff...

In the basement one can see a small display of traditional wooden instruments used in the fields or in the home and then a  room filled with The Tales and Myths of Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern.These fascinating picturesque images  made me think how fun they might be hung in a child’s room, but on closer inspection (and after reading the placards) this artwork showed/had some menacing features — Russian soldiers, evil disguised as a large alligator, and pogroms in the distance.

Sadly, this exhibit was reinforced by the present-day atrocities menacing the Ukraine today.  A short video presentation tells the story of Donetsk, their ongoing revolution against Russian control along with a room full of artifacts from this present-day war — clearly heartbreaking to those of Ukrainian descent.

To relieve the heaviness of war-torn strife, step across the hall to the small but charming gift shop before leaving this hidden gem of a museum — you can buy your very own pysanka, unusual and attractive chunky necklaces, beautiful notecards by famed Ukrainian-American artist Jacques Hnizdovsky, and even original art (just one example below).  

I couldn’t leave without buying a small notebook with these stickers — a reminder of dragoon-like-Deco-designs.

To make this visit a complete experience, head for The Ukrainian Home Restaurant just blocks away for a taste of slightly sweet, homemade white challah bread and a plateful of lovely and delicious cheese and potato pierogies adorned with fried onions and luscious sour cream.  

Is your mouth watering?