Even friends of this nerd who are self-proclaimed Modern art fanatics in New York City have often never heard of one East Village museum that has been exhibiting Modern art for decades.
The Ukrainian Museum on East 6th Street always brings a smile to my face as I explore the galleries with that feeling of discovery that comes with being in a great New York City space that few know about and that most of my non-Ukrainian friends have never been to.
Founded in 1976 by the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America as a venue for showing Ukrainian culture in NYC, the Museum has amassed a significant collection of folk and fine art that showcases the culture of Ukrainians around the world.
Several artists you may have assumed were Russian, such as Alexander Archipenko (born Kiev, 1885), are actually Ukrainian — and there is indeed a cultural distinction. The Museum boasts a great example of Archipenko’s work in bronze on display in the lobby. Kazimir Malevich is another Ukrainian-born artist often false thought of as Russian. His work does not appear to be represented in the museum’s current collection though it has figured into temporary exhibits.
For many years, the museum was located nearby at 203 Second Avenue, but five years ago a new museum building opened on a more quaint street. The $9 million building was designed by architect George Sawicki (a graduate of Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute), and took three years to build. The Ukrainian Museum has always been within walking distance the city’s 55-year Ukrainian stalwart landmark, Veselka restaurant, whose cookbook is sold in the museum gift shop. Try their borscht!
Although this is by no means a large museum, there is plenty of room for discovery. There are display cases downstairs for an abundant array of Pysanky (those famously lavish Ukrainian Easter eggs). Additionally, there is a small gallery of paintings from the permanent collection (mostly vivid landscapes at the time of my visit).
When I last visited the Ukrainian Museum, they had a fantastic exhibition of an artist who was unfamiliar to me, but whom I will not soon forget. Arcadia Olenska-Pertyshyn was born in Ukraine, but moved to New York as a teenager in 1944. She studied art history and got an MA from Hunter College. I enjoyed her paintings a great deal. They initially reminded my of the “Superflat” movement in Japan that was highlighted in Japan Society’s 2005 exhibit Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture. If you missed it, you might have caught the superstar of the show, Takashi Murakami at Brooklyn Museum’s retrospective three years later.
These Olenska-Pertyshyn works, though also super [duper] flat are very different in style and feel. Somehow Olenska-Pertyshyn manages to pack a great deal of emotion into expressionless faces that synch with the flatness of their presentation.
The museum shop has some of the best gift cards I’ve ever found. Normally I don’t tout a museum’s commercial endeavor quite so much, but in this case, there’s a great blend between posters, books, tchotchkes, and original art (mostly prints). Museum gift shops are usually slighted because visitors sometime spend more time in them than in the galleries, but they are in fact more than a necessary evil. Museums rarely make a profit from the shop, but it allows for a more informal learning environment. I can’t innumerate the hours I spent sitting on a gift shop floor looking at reproductions of great works of art in books or posters as a kid. Since I get into museums free, I’ll often make a small purchase in the shop if they have interesting merchandise. I particularly love the prints by Jacques Hnizdovsky, who was another new name for me. This shop is a great place for personal discovery of some great — and unappreciated — artistic talents.
One of the benefits of having a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled building is the ability to host top-notch loan exhibitions. In recent years, the Ukrainian Museum has hosted some spectacular shows. The new building’s inaugural exhibit was a mini-blockbuster of Archipenko’s work, and the museum is currently hosting an expanded version of Ukraine – Sweden: At the Crossroads of History (XVII – XVIII Centuries) which was touted as the best exhibition in Ukraine for 2009.
Ukrainian Museum, 222 East Sixth Street, East Village; (212) 228-0110.
Tweets from my first visit to the museum on April 30, 2009
- I’ve finally made it to the Ukranian Museum on 6th St. after years of trying! It’s a delightful mix of fine & folk. Archipenko & a carpet.
- Some of these artists I’ve never heard of are amazing! (e.g. Hnizdovsky) But I’ve got a strong suspicion Trusz is using “paint by numbers.”
- [From a wall label:] Only on Hutsul pysanky do we find designs combined from a series of similar motifs and arranged in bands around the circumference of the egg
- This Moroz exhibit @UkranianMuseum reminds me of the Nicholas Roerich Museum. Moroz’s “Feast Day…” looks like it’s from The Wicker Man!
- FYI A pysanka (pysanky is plural) is a Ukranian Easter egg. They are meticulously detailed in their painted decoration. Exquisite!
- The Ukranian Museum gets high marks. Partly my delight at the discovery of Hnizdovsky’s amazing woodcuts & partly the relief from MoMAdness.
Additional Info from Ukrainian Museum’s website
The Museum’s collection numbers over 40,000 objects in the key areas of fine arts, folk arts, antique maps and prints, photographs, documents and rare books. Its folk art collection of over 8,000 objects (such as embroidered and woven textile, ceramics, woodwork and metal work pieces from the 19th to the middle of the 20th century) prides itself on being one of the all-inclusive Ukrainian folk art collections in North America.
The fine arts collection includes works of such noted artists as Alexander Archipenko and Alexis Gritchenko. It boasts of a large grouping of paintings by Vasyl Krychevsky, who pioneered a distinct Ukrainian style of architectural expression and brought innovation to the art of book design in the early 20th century.
The Museum is proud of its collection of works by Nikifor of Krynytsia, the world renowned naive painter, and the works of Jacques Hnizdovsky, a celebrated Ukrainian-American artist. The one hundred year and more history of the Ukrainian immigration to the United States is recorded in photographs in the Museum’s archives. Photographs, documents, personal correspondence of noted individuals, playbills and posters, through which the life of the Ukrainian community is recorded, are contained in the archives.