As Putin plows on with his brutal war, the art world is taking a stand. This week, all eyes were on The Museum of Modern Art in New York as the iconic institution installed a gallery of works by artists born in present-day Ukraine.
Titled ‘In Solidarity’ the gallery demonstrates unwavering support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of its neighbor, which began in February. “There are many, many ways that one can help materially, through donations and through means of directly contributing, but then there’s another part of you that has the desire to acknowledge the people whose lives are being forever changed, even if it’s not in a way that physically or materially helps,” said Anne Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA, who helped oversee the gallery.
The collection includes works made over the last century by both internationally renowned and lesser-known figures in the art world. Some spent their formative years in Kyiv, while others ventured further afield to places like Moscow, Berlin and Paris. A number of the artists are of Jewish descent and found safe haven in New York City after fleeing their homes to avoid persecution.
When curating the gallery, Temkin decided not to list the artist’s nationality, instead opting to name the place they were born and where they died. “Nationality, which so happens to be where a person’s passport is, doesn’t give the full picture,” she said.
Ranging from abstraction to representation, the mechanical to the handmade, the museum said in a statement that it has brought together the awe-inspiring displays of artistry “as a statement of solidarity with, and in tribute to, the people of Ukraine”.
Among the works on display are Vladimir Baranoff-Rossine’s Symphony Number 1 (1913), a striking avant-garde sculpture made from polychrome wood, cardboard and crushed eggshells; John D Graham’s pencil sketch Celia (1944-5); and Louise Nevelson’s monochromatic wood sculpture That Silent Place (1954-5). The gallery also features a framed poem by celebrated Ukrainian writer Serhiy Zhadan with a translation by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin.
The ‘In Solidarity’ gallery is not the first time MoMA has shown its support for Ukrainian artists. In the run up to the invasion, the museum published drawings on its website by Anna Sarvira who was forced to flee her home in Kyiv. The illustrator created a powerful story about daily life as her country faced the prospect of war. “Probably the weirdest thing we experience here is the inability to plan for the future,” she said. “And this expectation of something terrible ahead is probably the most tiring part.”
In 2017, MoMA responded to President Trump’s executive order to block travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the US by displaying work by artists from those countries on its fifth-floor galleries.
The text accompanying the newly installed work, read: “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.”
‘In Solidarity’, Floor 5, 507 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries, The Museum of Modern Art