Posts Tagged Art at the Institute

An Interview with Artist Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak

The current exhibition, Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak: Nevermore, explores historical socio-political and environmental interests through the artist’s personal search for identity, in light of the recent and prevailing political climate in Ukraine. Curated by Dr. Walter Hoydysh, this is the artist’s first solo exhibition at The Ukrainian Institute of America.

On the occasion of Ms. Bodnar-Balahutrak’s exhibition, which runs through June 21, the Houston-based artist graciously answered selected questions presented by Andrew Horodysky. We are pleased to share this exchange with our friends and wider audience.

AH: Your exhibition currently installed at The Ukrainian Institute of America includes artworks from different series of the past twenty years, or so. Would you consider this a mini-survey? What is integral to the underlining idea(s)?

LBB: With the inclusion of some works available from earlier series, the exhibition did provide an overview from the early 2000’s to the present. The most recent pieces from my ongoing Hide and Seek series are featured in the large room at UIA, while the other room, foyer, and stairwell show earlier works lent from a private NYC collection alongside current works. The entire installation is an opportunity for the viewing public and for me to compare and contrast the artworks and note recurring themes, processes, and media. At the heart of all my work is a discourse about the nature of being, of connection, of home – and the lack thereof.

UIA show installation, large room

UIA show installation, large room

Ukrainian history, especially of past tragic and recent socio-political concerns, is a recurring thematic concern that runs parallel to the artworks on display. How do you separate the objective from the personal?

I don’t see a separation. Each person experiences life from his or her own particular frame of reference, and expresses that as part of a larger whole. From the particular, we extract the universal, and vice versa. At the core, history – with all its socio-political manifestations – resonates with timeless narrative, archetypal metaphors, and relevant meanings. Ukrainian history, just like the history of other nations, taps into the human condition.

Artist with her artwork dealing with Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Barren Fruit, in the Permanent Collection of the Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TX.

Artist with her artwork dealing with Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Barren Fruit, in the Permanent Collection of the Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TX.

What research do you undertake?

My research is not that of a scholar. I read and collect news reports, commentaries and essays about past and current events that I find interesting and relevant. I investigate the written word as well as the general nature of disseminated information. I review the content of saved articles in chronological order and see discrepancies, data changes, omissions, and I question the authenticity and power of the media to wholly inform us. What is truth? What is “truthiness”? What is disinformation? What is propaganda? Who decides what is circulated and what is suppressed?

Text-based art was an idea-based vehicle for the 20th century avant-garde, and continues to be explored by contemporary artists, worldwide. What is the role of this course in your work, both conceptually and formally?

Text, in the form of newspaper clippings, wordplay, or poems embedded in my work, plays a primary role in my process. I firmly believe in the power of language – that a single word has physical presence, has weight, and can affect tremendous change. In my artwork, print material, symbolic mementoes and cultural artifacts are collaged onto canvas or board in a sort of self-perpetuating dialogue. The process of selectively obliterating and/or highlighting the words and images with paint, chalk or wax, reflects our experiences of events – they submerge, resurface, and unravel over time. Some elements remain visible, others are obscured, mimicking the way truth about anything and everything is “hidden and sought.”

Nature is depicted not solely as a political and environmental undertaking, but also embraces the spiritual realm. Describe that relation in your artworks.

My 1996 visit to the Chornobyl Zone left a lasting impression. I was struck by nature’s power of reclamation and regeneration. Vines were growing over the dust and decay; tree roots were breaking through concrete. Though at times nature, with its cycles and patterns, can become rampant, invasive and destructive, that visual metaphor evoking renewal, healing and hope has stayed with me. While the verdant blades of grass shroud the Holodomor in Will the Grass Grow Over It?, the words of Vassily Grossman implore us to remember, acknowledge, and commemorate this historic tragedy and not let the grass “grow over it.”

How has your work changed or evolved in the last twenty years? Early in your career, you worked with traditional materials – applying oil to canvas and pencil to paper. Gradually, you began collecting and applying objects into your artworks, experimenting with media, and creating multi-layered matter.

We all evolve and change over our lifetimes. At first, the human figure was my primary subject matter, but my first trip to my ancestral homeland of Ukraine in 1991 was a turning point in my creative work and my world view. In the spring of 1991, I received a grant from IREX to travel to Ukraine for the first time. This trip opened my eyes and soul to a land beautiful but ravaged by the Soviet system. After that first trip, I began reading and photocopying texts, and bringing together material about little-known historic events of Ukraine, among these the Holodomor. My art-making expanded to include seemingly disparate processes of gold-leafing, torching, scoring, tearing, layering, collaging fragments of text and photo images, incorporating liturgical conceits, treasured mementoes and handmade items, and melding organic and inert materials. I broke with traditional notions of drawing and painting and explored identity and cultural ties through mixing media and combining text, narrative, and figuration. Each subsequent trip to Ukraine deepened my interest in the nature of communication and history.

As a visual and tactile experience, how does the multi-media process simplify or complicate your thinking of the artwork at hand?

The visual and tactile are inseparable. They are born of improvisation and an integration of materials, processes and time. Images evolve from the mark-making of drawing, painting, scraping, and veiling with paints, inks, chalks, resins, and wax. The grounds are pieced together narratives made of text and images, and bits of ephemera – embroidery, money, correspondences, stamps, maps – that viscerally evoke the human presence. All had been made by hand, or had been passed through many hands.

What do you think about the participatory role of your audience? Do you have an ideal viewer of your work?

With each artwork I initiate a discourse, not only with myself and my materials, but with the audience. I invite the viewer to be open, to engage with the work, to take it in from afar and then close-up, to allow the image built up from layers to coalesce at a distance, then to be drawn in for close reading of the many parts that make up the whole. The ideal viewer approaches the work with no preconceived notions and surrenders to the play of “hide and seek.”

How did you decide to be an artist in the first place? What was the impetus?

I don’t ever remember a time of consciously making a decision to be an artist. I’ve just always been enchanted by the magic of making marks and conjuring up images and forms that had not existed before, and took on lives of their own. Early on, I was fascinated by people’s reactions to my work. It was a way of learning about the world and my place in it. From the outset, it seems, art-making was a means of continual discourse.

What is the strongest memory of your childhood? Did your upbringing influence your work?

I’m a child of post-World War II immigrants. I grew up in a multi-generation Ukrainian community in Ohio and was fortunate to have all four grandparents during my formative childhood years. I was immersed in their storytelling, remembrances, and their yearning for Ukraine, which seemed like a mythical faraway place to me. In my family, not a day went by without engaging in some measure of creative work – embroidery, sewing, baking, singing, reciting poetry, planting gardens… The joyful artfulness of it all never escaped me; I embraced it. The profound aesthetic underpinnings I came to appreciate much later, when I embarked on a formal study of art.

Your grandfather was a Ukrainian Catholic priest. How did he influence your work, as spirituality is reflected throughout?

My paternal grandfather was a Uniate priest. Throughout my childhood I participated in liturgical and traditional rituals steeped in deep spirituality, reverence, and awe. I remember accompanying my grandfather to church, and watching him put on his vestments in preparation for Liturgy. At those moments he was wondrously transformed, yet he was still my grandfather. There have been so many of those kinds of sacramental moments. I’m inclined to see the world as reverential.

What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the future?

I’m continuing with my ongoing Hide and Seek, Nests, and poem text series. This fall through spring 2016, an exhibit of my work will travel to three college venues as part of the Deliberative Dialogs project addressing socio-political issues and citizens’ awareness and responsibility, organized by Lone Star College in Texas. Translating poems from Ukrainian to English has recently become an additional task I set for myself. Words – their visual shapes, patterns and rhythms, have become the content of much of my work. At first, the letter forms as abstract marks and graphic design alone sufficed. But now, I am compelled to also communicate the language, the grouped words’ meanings. It’s quite a challenge.

During your recent stay in New York, did you see any exhibitions of particular interest to you?

During this trip’s visit to galleries and museums, I took particular note of the remarkable presence of language in so much wonderful artwork. I encountered thoughtful work that pulls the viewer in to probe and contemplate the issues of our time – art that stimulates a deeper discourse rather than daily superficial hyped-up sound-bites. It was inspiring.

Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak: Nevermore is on view through June 21, 2015 at The Ukrainian Institute of America, 2 East 79th Street, New York, NY. Hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 12-6pm, or by appointment. For further infor-mation, please call Olena Sidlovych at (212) 288-8660.


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Art @ the Institute. 20th Century Modern Ukrainian Art.

The Ukrainian Institute of America is pleased to present the 20th Century Modern Ukrainian Art Exhibit. The exhibition opened on September 28, 2013 at the Ukrainian Institute of America and is on display until November 13, 2013. This exhibit features works by Archipenko, Andreenko, Burliuk, Gritchenko, Hnizdovsky, Hutsaliuk, Olenska-Petryshyn, and Solovij. The Ukrainian Institute of America invites its members and the general public to a reception on October 29, 2013, from 6 to 8 p.m. marking one of the last opportunities to view this Exhibition.

Mykhailo ANDREENKO-NECHYTAILO (1894 – 1982)

Mykhailo Andreenko-Nechytailo was born in 1894 in Odessa, Ukraine.
He studied at the art school of the Society for the Promotion of the Arts in Saint Petersburg with N. Rerikh, A. Rylov, and I. Bilibin. In 1914–16 he exhibited the composition Black Dome and his first cubist works in Saint Petersburg and participated in an international graphics exhibition in Leipzig. From 1917–24 he devoted most of his time to designing stage sets for various theaters—in Saint Petersburg, Odessa, Prague, Paris, and for the Royal Opera in Bucharest. In 1923, Andreenko-Nechytailo moved to Paris, where he worked on films such as Casanova and Sheherazade and continued to paint in the cubist-constructivist style. In the 1930s Andreenko-Nechytailo produced a series of surrealist paintings. He switched to neorealism in the 1940s and painted a number of portraits as well as a series the cityscapes. Andreenko-Nechytailo`s work is characterized by a precision of composition that harmonizes subtly with color. His stage sets are remarkable for their laconic quality and architectural schematism, and his costume designs, for their richness. He died in 1982 in Paris, France.

Yuriy SOLOVIJ (1921-2008)

A graduate of the Lviv Arts and Crafts School (1944) and a postwar refugee in Germany and then the United States, Solovij experimented with several styles (postimpressionism, expressionism, abstract expressionism). He used mixed media in unusual combinations and was preoccupied with the themes of birth and death. His later works deal with the universality of pain in human life. Some of his characteristic works are Motherhood (1947), Astral (1948), Crucifixion (1950, 1969), and the series ‘1,000 Heads.’ Solo exhibitions of his works were held in New York (1959, 1965, 1970, 1972, 2000), Chicago (1960, 1972, 1980), Toronto (1963, 1972, 1973), Munich (1971), and Winnipeg (1973). His art criticism were published in the émigré press and separately as Pro rechi bil’shi nizh zori (About Things Greater than Stars, 1978).

Alexander ARCHIPENKO (1887-1964)

Archipenko was a Ukrainian avant-garde artist, sculptor, and graphic artist. He was born in Kyiv and attended the Kyiv Art School. A year later moved to Moscow where he participated in exhibitions with symbolists such as Kazimir Malevich and Mikhail Vrubel, and first was exposed to the work of artists from Paris such as Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Gaugin, van Gogh and Matisse. Archipenko moved to Paris in 1908 and was a resident of La Ruche, a neighborhood of émigré Eastern European painters. During World War I, the artist sought exile in Nice, and then moved to Germany in 1921. He finally settled in the US where he lived until his death. In art, Archipenko departed from the neo-classical sculpture of his time, using faceted planes and negative space to create a new way of looking at the human figure, showing a number of views of the subject simultaneously. He is known for introducing sculptural voids, and for his inventive mixing of genres throughout his career: devising ‘sculpto-paintings’, and later experimenting with materials such as clear acrylic and terra cotta.

Jacques HNIZDOVSKY (1915-1985)

Hnizdovsky was a Ukrainian-American painter, printmaker, sculptor, ex libris designer, book illustrator, and art historian. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and Zagreb, and produced hundreds of paintings, as well as over 300 prints after his move to the United States in 1949. He was inspired by woodblock printing in Japan as well as the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer. Hnizdovsky’s woodcuts frequently depict plants and animals, and the primary reason for this, in the beginning, after his arrival in the United States, was the lack of funds to pay for a human model. But what was first a substitute for the human form later became his primary subject matter. He was well known in the botanical gardens and zoos in New York, where he would find subjects willing to pose for no cost. The sheep from the Bronx Zoo went on to be the print Hnizdovsky was best known for, and it illustrated the poster for his very successful exhibition at the Lumley Cazalet Gallery in London.

Arcadia OLENSKA-PETRYSHYN (1934-1996)

Olenska-Petryshyn was a notable Ukrainian-American artist and critic. She was born in Galicia, Ukraine. An émigré to the US since 1950, she completed her studies at the University of Chicago. Most of her work consists of lithographs, graphics and oils. Her early works were abstract, then she depicted human figures with expressionless faces, recently she has been producing paintings of cacti and prints of plants and trees. Her paintings were displayed in the United States, Canada, Brussels, China and Ukraine.

David BURLIUK (1882 – 1967)

Burliuk was a one-eyed Ukrainian, avant-garde artist (Futurist and Neo-Primitivist), book illustrator, publicist, and author associated with Russian Futurism. From 1898 to 1904, Burliuk studied at the art schools in Kasan and in Odessa, as well as at the Royal Academy in Munich. His exuberant, extroverted character was recognized by Anton Azhbe, his professor at the Munich Acade- my, who called Burliuk a “wonderful wild steppe horse.” In 1909 Burliuk painted a portrait of his future wife, Marussia, on a back- ground of flowers and rocks on the Crimean coast. Many times thereafter he would set the image of his wife to canvas. Without question two dreams possessed his heart all his life: the face of his wife and the portrait of his homeland – first Ukraine and then his adopted country, the United States. From 1918 to 1922 he traveled to the USA via Siberia, Japan, and Canada. Burliuk died on Long Island, NY.

“Art at the Institute” is sponsored by the Ukrainian Institute of America.

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Art @ the Institute. Summer Art Exhibit & Sale 2013

More than one hundred people attended the opening reception of the 2013 Summer Art Exhibit and Sale at the Ukrainian Institute of America held on June 21, 2013. The exhibit featuring contemporary and 20th century art from Ukraine on display until September 6, 2013 showcases more than 50 works including oil paintings, mixed media works, photographs and sculpture by Vasyl Bazhaj, Alexis Gritchenko, Ivan Kurach, Temo Svireli and Volodymyr Zhuravel.


Vasyl Bazhaj, born in Lviv in 1950, defined his artistic style in the late 1980s when the reins of government censorship loosened and painting provided him a venue for a furious offensive against the system. He graduated from State Institute of Applied and Decorative Art. He is head of the Conceptual Art Department at the Lviv Union of Artists along with being a member of the board of the Lviv Union of Artists, both located in Lviv, Ukraine where he lives and works.

In the 1980s, when the reins of censorship loosened (the Bolsheviks were persecuting open dissidents but had no energy to look for the “hidden” ones, the “furious youth went on offensive.” I have been gladly following the play of lights at the exhibitions of young artists and have patiently waited for the coming of a master of the highest rank, who was sure to appear in the upsurge of Ukrainian creative activity. Last year, at his personal exhibition in Kyiv, I discovered Vasyl Bazhaj. His large canvases emanated a mighty, gloomy force. His object-less compositions bore the stamp of geological or psychological shifts, struggles and strains. Like hardened lava, the fragments of pictorial forms seem to be thrown upon the canvas after melting in fire and then hardening in sullen rage into cold immobility.
Dmytro Horbachov, Kyiv, Ukraine

For some time after graduating from the Institute, Vasyl Bazhaj worked in one of Lviv’s theaters. This experience freed him from the natural fear of space, liberated his plastic thought, his artistic selection of palette. This experience was decisive in the realization of a new exhibition. The artist built it as an entirety, like a theatrical performance that takes place not only in the three dimensions of space, but also in time. Its dramatic conflict was inherent in the material itself-in the selection and disposition of the exhibits. The mighty artistic temperament sounded in the lower registers of the large canvases, on which monumental architecture continued, developed and concentrated on the intense dynamics of the main movement-struggle. On the other hand, the most subtle nuances of color sounded in diminutive form. Here a single stroke of the brush acquired utmost significance. The artist’s gift of composition was already evident in the exposition and was fully realized in the specific arrangement of each work.
Olena Ripko, Lviv, Ukraine


Alexis Gritchenko (Ukrainian: Оле́кса Гри́щенко) (born in Krolevets, Northern Ukraine, April 2, 1883; died in Vence, France on January 28, 1977) was a Ukrainian painter and art theorist.

Gritchenko studied philology and biology at the universities of Kyiv, St Petersburg and Moscow before turning to art. He studied painting in Moscow and established close ties with the collectors Sergey Shchukin and Ivan Morozov. In 1911, he visited Paris where he became an enthusiast of modern art, especially Cubist painting. After a trip to Italy in 1913-14, he blended with his study of early Italian Renaissance painters, creating a style that brought together the cosmopolitan and urbane with the orthodoxy of the Byzantine legacy of sacred art. Gritchenko devoted his theoretical work to the subject of Byzantine art and its links with modern art, and to an analysis of the formal and stylistic properties of Byzantine painting in terms of modernist tendencies and practice. He published several books and articles, the most important of which were his studies on the icon in relation to Western art, and also took part in contemporary discussions on various aspects of modern art.

After the 1917 revolution, Gritchenko became a professor at the Free Art Studios (Svomas) in Moscow and a member of the Commission for the Preservation of Historic Monuments. In 1919, he was offered the directorship of the Tretyakov Gallery, but decided to leave Russia by way of Crimea to Constantinople, leaving all his paintings and other possessions behind in Moscow.[1] This period marked a distinctive and inspired period of watercolor.

To preserve Gritchenko’s artistic legacy, the Alexis Gritchenko Foundation was formed in New York in 1958. After the foundation was formed, Gritchenko held three more exhibits in New York and Philadelphia, the last in 1967 at the Peter Deitsch Gallery in New York. At the beginning of the sixties it was discovered that his paintings which had been in the collections of the Ukrainian Lviv Museum were destroyed as creations of “bourgeois formalism”, together with works of Alexander Archipenko, Mikhail Boichuk and Heorhiy Narbut. This caused Gritchenko to bequeath a collection of seventy works including oils, watercolors and drawings, to the Alexis Gritchenko Foundation, with the provision that they be transferred someday to the museums of a free Ukraine. The foundation and the collection were held by the Ukrainian Institute of America (UIA).

On March 26, 2006, a ceremony was held to formally transfer the Gritchenko Foundation collection to the National Art Museum of Ukraine. In addition to the 70 works of art, books, catalogues, handwritten notes and memoirs, and other archival material were included. Today, Gritchenko’s art work can be found in various museum and private collections, more than three hundred of them in the United States and Canada.

IMG_7035 Ivan Kurach (1909 – 1968) lived and studied in Italy.

Well known both in Europe and in the United States, his paintings are found in famous private collections and in museums all over the world. He spent most of his time between his studios of New York City and Milan, Italy. His work is another example of how very modern technique and sensitivity can freely fuse into the rigid rule of the most beautiful Italian pictorial tradition.

A soldier in World War II, he was a faithful interpreter of that tragic period; with gray and somber colors, with sad visions, he portrayed those days with force and meaning.


Temo Svirely, born 1964 in Zhinvali, Republic of Georgia. Graduated from the Zhinvali Art school, the Tbilisi Academy of Fine Arts (1998-1992). Temo is a member of the International Federation of Artist of Russia (from 1993). Member of the International Federation of Artist of Georgia (from 1998). Member of BGart (from 2000). Now artist lives and works in Kiev, Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zhuravel

Volodymyr Zhuravel, born 1986 in Kremenchuk, Ukraine. Graduated from National Academy of Fine Art and Arcitecture in Ukraine, Kyiv in 2010. Designed and executed the Medal “ Person of the Year” presented by the Ukrainian Institute of America to Vitali and Volodymyr Klitschko for their boxing achievements. Designed and cast a monument dedicated to A, Kuznetsov which is installed in Kyiv, Ukraine.

“Art at the Institute” is sponsored by the Ukrainian Institute of America.

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