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"Out of Tradition: Contemporary Decorative and Applied Art" on view at The Ukrainian Museum
Jaroslava Lialia Kuchma (Chicago, Illinois), Blu-Rose (two-part tapestry), 2010, hand-woven; wool, cotton, 64 x 48, 64 x 23 – combined 64 x 71 (162.6 x 121.9, 162.6 x 58.4 – combined 121.9 x 180.3).

NEW YORK, NY.- Organized by The Ukrainian Museum, the exhibition Out of Tradition: Contemporary Decorative and Applied Art features the work of 35 contemporary decorative artists of Ukrainian background from Ukraine, the United States, and Canada. The aim of the exhibition is to showcase works from the innovative realm of contemporary art and design that are rooted in the tradition and aesthetic of Ukrainian folk art. Ceramics, jewelry, textiles, high-fashion clothing and accessories, and decorative items crafted from wood, glass, and silver are among the more than 150 objects in this major exhibition. Out of Tradition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an introduction by Jaroslaw Leshko, Professor Emeritus of Art, Smith College, and an essay written by Tamila Pecheniuk and Halyna Kusko, art historians and docents in the Art Textiles Department at the Lviv National Academy of Art.

Amplifying the main exhibition are selected objects drawn from the Museum's extensive collection of folk art. Traditional Ukrainian costumes and other textiles, pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs), gerdany (bead-strung necklaces), and ceramics serve to complement the contemporary works of art that allude to the ancient art forms. Shown separately, a collection of traditional Hutsul ceramics and the unique black-smoked ceramics from the Havarechyna region in Ukraine, brought together from various sources, underscores the rich artistry of Ukrainian culture.

The state of the decorative arts as assessed through the prism of the artists in the current exhibition flows out of two distinct, yet complementary currents of present and past. The 20th century was witness to the revolutionary dissolution of artistic boundaries, facilitating an interactive relationship among all disciplines. This momentous shift had an enormous impact on the very nature, indeed stature, of the decorative arts. The availability of new methods and materials further enhanced the possibilities for self-expression.

The distinguishing feature of the present exhibition is the artists’ Ukrainian descent, whether they are from Ukraine itself or the United States. Their symbiotic link with the rich history of Ukrainian decorative arts is a major leitmotif of the show.

The decorative arts in Ukraine run deep in the nation’s consciousness and cut across societal and geographic boundaries. Each region takes pride in its own distinctive design, which only adds to the rich panoply of the whole. The unifying thread is the high quality of the work and its universal acceptance. Decorative art is avidly collected, proudly displayed and carefully passed down from generation to generation. It plays an integral part in religious, national and family holidays. Over the centuries of oppression, it kept alive the identity and spirit of a nation.

The story of Ukraine’s decorative art is a living and evolving one. Among its ardent proponents are some of Ukraine’s most celebrated artists. Sonia Delaunay’s coloristic vibrancy and clarity are indebted to it. Kasimir Malevich’s experiments with faceless heads can be traced to his interest in the similarly rendered heads of folk dolls.

The wide repertory of Ukrainian decorative art is in large measure dependent on natural forms, design motifs of the pre-Christian era and the spiritual art of Byzantium. When in the late 19th and 20th centuries the Neolithic Trypillian culture and Scythian gold treasures were excavated from the soil of Ukraine, they were viewed as a validation of a cultural continuum. Decorative artists quickly assimilated the curving designs of Tripyllian pottery into their work. Alexander Archipenko, Ukraine’s greatest sculptor, who was starting his career at the time of the Neolithic discoveries, owes the sinuosity of his line in part to Trypillian design.

The exhibition brims with works of decorative and applied art that belong to the present moment — fully reflective of the current practices in the field. Yet to reference tradition in this context is both valid and necessary. Some of the artists in the exhibition make the link overtly, others evoke it more subtly. All are aware of its centrality for their art. Ukrainian decorative art anchors and emboldens these artists to explore and experiment; to unleash their imagination and take their creative impulse to new places.

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"Out of Tradition: Contemporary Decorative and Applied Art" on view at The Ukrainian Museum

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