Published 03/04/2023 | 13:18

The Kumu Art Museum introduces revealing insights into the radical dreams of the Ukrainian avant-garde

Oleksandr Khvostenko-Khvostov. Stage design for the play Mob, adapted from Upton Sinclair’s novel They Call Me Carpenter. Ivan Franko Theatre, Kharkiv. 1924. Mystetskyi Arsenal

Starting on 8 April, the exhibition Futuromarennia: Ukraine and Avant-Garde in the Kumu Art Museum will display innovative artistic visions of the future that were born on the Ukrainian historical soil in the 1910s and 1920s.

Radical dreams of the future in painting, scenography, architecture, literature and cinema – artworks by Oleksandra Ekster, David Burliuk, Vasyl Yermylov and many other remarkable authors – come from the collections of museums that continue their work amidst ongoing attacks by the Russian aggressors. The exhibition creates a basis for a critical postcolonial revision of the history of both the Western and Russian avant-garde, showcasing a wide range of peculiarities of the local artistic life and the affinity for international developments in the art of that time.

“In our exploration, Futurism is a revolutionary impulse rather than merely a particular art movement. Embodied in the slogan ‘Metropolis, Machine, Mass’, Futurism reflected the dynamics of change at that time and had a significant impact on the development of art throughout the world. The exhibition at Mystetskyi Arsenal in Kyiv ended on the eve of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, which fundamentally changed the world context. That is why the current project for Kumu has a different focus, with a special emphasis on the self-sufficiency of the Ukrainian version of Futurism. Representatives of the 1920s avant-garde art discussed in this project emphasised their Ukrainian identity. After centuries of Russian domination, they were particularly sensitive to the issue of national cultural sovereignty. Our project for Estonia is not only about art. Futuromarennia is about Ukraine, its heritage and its identity. This is our story, told in the first person. At the same time, we are telling a story that has not yet become a past,” commented the exhibition co-curator, Olha Melnyk.

The display will include more than 100 original artworks – paintings and drawings, designs for books and posters, theatre costumes and scenography – as well as historical photos and video materials. In addition, contemporary reconstructions in embroidery, a 3D model, documentary mappings of historical “places of strength” and two site-specific multimedia installations will help viewers grasp the phenomenon of the avant-garde in Ukraine not only in the historical, but also in the present context.

“This exhibition would not be possible without the cooperation of many institutions: museums, archives and private initiatives. Sometimes we had doubts about whether the project would come to fruition because the works exhibited here belong to collections that are under daily attack by the aggressors. Despite this, all of us, together with the Kumu team, are proud of our cooperation: goodwill and solidarity, willingness to describe and share allowed us to create ‘Futuromarennia’ and to believe in the future together,” pointed out the exhibition’s curators.

“For the Mystetskyi Arsenal and other Ukrainian museums who joined forces to create this exhibition, the support of the Estonian colleagues has been invaluable. During the whole preparation process, we felt deep empathy and deep understanding of the culture of our part of Europe and the dramatic trajectory of the artists themselves and the heritage that they left. Today, we are happy to tell the story of our culture ourselves and not through an old imperial lens as it was told for many generations,” said Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, the director general of Mystetskyi Arsenal.

“The history of the Ukrainian avant-garde is something we can empathise with, because it coincides with the foundation of the Estonian state and the search for our identity as Estonians, as well as Europeans. But organising this exhibition in Kumu is also undoubtedly a gesture of solidarity. This is an opportunity to express our sympathy and solidarity with the Ukrainian people, colleagues and art institutions, as well as to offer protection to a valuable part of their avant-garde heritage within the walls of Kumu in Estonia,” commented Kadi Polli, the director of the Kumu Art Museum.

On Saturday, 8 April the opening programme will take place. Besides thematic workshops for different age groups, tours by curators from Mystetskyi Arsenal will take place. In addition, Janek Murd will play tunes that are inspired by the Ukrainian music scene. Entry for Ukrainian war refugees is free, based on a document proving their citizenship.

Among other events, the public programme of the exhibition will include the screening of Dziga Vertov’s film The Eleventh Year (1928), his first experiment in developing a specific avant-garde film language, separate from the language of theatre and literature. The screening will take place in the Kumu Auditorium on 10 May, at 6 pm. The full public programme will be published on the museum’s website.

The exhibition will remain open until 10 September 2023.

Curators: Olha Melnyk, Ihor Oksametnyi and Viktoriia Velychko
Exhibition design: Lera Guievska
Graphic design: Kostiantyn Martsenkivskyi
Coordinators: Elnara Taidre and Iryna Bilan
Co-organiser of the exhibition: Mystetskyi Arsenal (Kyiv, Ukraine)

In collaboration with:
Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema of Ukraine
National Art Museum of Ukraine
Dnipro State Art Museum
Kharkiv Literature Museum
Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre
National Research Restoration Centre of Ukraine
Central State Archive-Museum of Literature and Art of Ukraine
Kharkiv Private Museum of City Estate
Lviv Museum of the History of Religion
Valentyna Kostyukova

We thank: Republic of Estonia Ministry of Culture, Republic of Estonia Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Embassy of Estonia in Kyiv, Embassy of Ukraine in Tallinn, city of Tallinn and the Nordic Hotel Forum