In the Eye of the Storm : Modernism in Ukraine 1900-1930s 

Alexandra Exter, Three Female Figures, oil on canvas, 1909-1910, National Art Museum of Ukraine, inv. Ж-1769

The modernist movement in Ukraine unfolded against a complicated socio-political backdrop of collapsing empires, World War I, the revolutions of 1917 with the ensuing short-lived independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (1917–1920), and the eventual establishment of Soviet Ukraine. Despite such political turmoil, this became a period of true renaissance in Ukrainian art, literature, theatre, and cinema.  

During this pivotal period, the Ukrainian national identity developed, particularly through culture, before being threatened by Stalinist repression. The exhibition features over 60 works that bear witness to Ukrainian resilience and creativity in times of turmoil. The works range from figurative art to socialist realism, cubism, and constructivism. 

The new exhibition at Belgium’s Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium reveals the development of the Ukrainian avant-garde amidst major historical changes. Most of the paintings, gouaches, watercolours, and other temperas have been loaned by two major Kyiv-based institutions: the National Art Museum of Ukraine (NAMU) and the Museum of Theatre, Music and Cinema of Ukraine.  

The exhibition brings together works by artists such as Kazymyr Malevych, Alexandra Exter and El Lissitzky, as well as by lesser-known figures, including Oleksandr Bohomazov, Sarah Shor and Mykhailo Boichuk, all of whom have left an indelible mark on the country’s art and culture. 

In the Eye of the Storm paints a vivid picture of the very active Ukrainian art scene at the beginning of the 20th century and offers an eye-opening experience of the enduring power of art in the face of adversity.  

To safeguard them during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, the works were evacuated from Kyiv on 15 November 2022, a delicate operation that had been weeks in the making. The convoy carefully avoided passing close to targets likely to be attacked along the way to the border with Poland. It was a dangerous exfiltration, carefully orchestrated by Museums for Ukraine, an initiative founded by Baroness Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza to provide much needed assistance to museums, curators, and artists in the war zone. After being welcomed in Madrid (at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza) and Cologne (at the Ludwig Museum), the precious convoy has arrived in Brussels, where it will remain until 28 January before heading for Vienna (at the Belvedere Museum) and London (Royal Academy of Arts).

 Royal Museums of Fine Arts, to 28 January 2024