Ideological institutions in Kyiv followed “the general party line” until the collapse of the USSR. All of this reinforced the dualism of consciousness in the artistic circles of the early 1980s that totally did not sustain the Soviet reality. Life of several generations of artists following the “double standards” influenced the ways of artistic reflection, gave rise to mixed metaphors and encoded images. This tendency can be seen not only in painting and graphics, but especially in poetry and cinematography (films directed by Andrii Tarkovsky and Serhii Parajanov).
In the paintings of young Tiberius Silvashi Picasso (1979), Sudden Awakening (1981), and others, in compositions by Les Podereviansky, Serhii Sherstiuk, Dmytro Nahurny, and Liubomyr Medvid there are certain “implications” that need decoding and are more important than the “text.”
Generations of the 1970s and 1980s were raised on the cult of the space age and the capabilities of the STR. Young people easily operated the notions of space and time, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and deformations of civilization processes. Information about intellectual, technical, and artistic innovation of the great world leaked out through half-destroyed wall between the USSR and the West. Artists of the 1980s have learned the quirks of the existential being, depth of subconsciousness, new criteria of thoughts and feelings from their own experience. Thus, for the obvious leader of the youth movement of the period the mentioned artists and their associates were the generation of accelerated physical and intellectual rhythms.
Dmytro Nahurny raved about the ideas of the future, hence there is ‘sensuality of mechanisms’ in his solo program. Here we can find items that reflect his passion about the forbidden “americanisms” – shiny surfaces and car designs, “cinema-,” “space-,” and “TV” reflection in the glass of skyscrapers.
Nothing can be said about realism as a method in the art works of the new generation of the 1980s. Although, figurativism is still present there appears a new way of thinking and reaction to the world. Mirages of the illusion serve as prototypes. Along with the ideological revolution in young painting, profound changes took place in plastic language.
At the Republican exhibition back in 1977 among the boldest art works there was the painting by Svitlana Lopukhova Portrait of the Daughter. It attracted attention of the audience by the unfettered manner of painting previously not seen in Kyiv. Drips of paint freely flowed, making decorative ornament of the composition. In this improvisation one could easily feel the excitement of free movement, passion of the author in interaction with the paint as a value in itself. Young artists from the 1980s continued to consistently work on the possibilities of art as the embodiment of “the landscape of a soul,” that is of their own subjective vision.
Despite colorless gray background of the formal situation, artistic field of Ukraine in the late 1970s and 1980s was enriched with extraordinary personalities. They declared themselves boldly and independently in the time of “stagnation” marked by arrests of dissidents.
Paradoxical as it may be, but the half-legitimate underground also had to try to get into the exhibitions like “We Build Communism,” “On Guard for Peace,” “USSR is My Motherland” and others of the same kind. Some were destroyed by conformism. Majority saw the obvious weakness of the ideology. One needed to be brave and have will power to make his choice in favor of underground and “home” exhibitions.
It is sad to read in the diary of Odesa artist Liudmyla Yastreb: “Never before, artists had the burden of exclusive stoicism in the name of beauty, the way it happening now.”
At the turn of the 1970s and 1980s, painting of Liudmyla Rapoport burst out like an unexpected comet, original, unlike any other in the established mentality of the artistic community. Her art literally burst with the power of compositional and coloristic structures, spectacular persuasiveness, theatrical nature, and subtle irony. In this intense expressive art she as if sensed some injuries and fractures of the “Chernobyl era,” which was rapidly approaching.
NOTION OF “UKRAINIAN RENAISSANCE” WAS INTRODUCED BY MOSCOW EXPERTS
Official authorities of Brezhnev period shut itself close from the artistic novelty of the younger generation. Reputable art commissions from Moscow led by Tair Salakhov, Maks Birnshtein, and other supporters of artistic progress closely watched the new generation of Ukrainian artists. Their goal was to attract the leaders of the youth movement to the capital of the USSR.
“Sucking talents out” from the periphery is an established cultural strategy. However, with the unbreakable social realist clog of Kyiv artistic Ukrainian youth received real prospects for exhibiting innovative painting.
In 1980 young artists (Tiberius Silvashi, Sergei Geta, Sergei Bazilev, Semen Odainik, and others) made a sensation in Tashkent with their extraordinary way of thinking. Moscow experts introduced the notion of “Ukrainian Renaissance” to the professional terminology. Contrast of the exhibitions of young artists with the heavily-didactic official expositions was rather striking. Participants of the “Tashkent group” were immediately invited to exhibit their work in Moscow, but because of the negative reaction from Kyiv, long and boring negotiations with the leadership of the Union of Artists of Ukraine the exhibition “Young Artists of Ukraine” was held only five years later.
This situation was typical for artistic progress in Odesa, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lviv, and Chernivtsi.
The artistic situation in the period of after the Chornobyl disaster from 1986 until 1991 made clear radical transformation of artistic consciousness toward pluralism.
So-called second culture, which in the last 30 years was forced to be underground and was unwanted, came out on the surface. Intimidated Soviet critics cried out: “Where shall we go?” In 1987 an informal exhibition “Pohliad” (view) was held in the halls of Kyiv Polytechnic Institute because the frightened and petrified Union of Artists was unwilling to accept revolution. Among the art works of the participants of the exhibition, which showed maturity of the national idea in youth circles and privileges of modern fine art, the series of paintings by Nahurny “Chornobyl Series” was painfully impressive.
The exhibition “Pohliad” brought together different artists: Anatolii Haidamaka, Petro Honchar, Oleksandr Borodai, Oleksandr Babak, Valerii Hryhorov, Nina Denisova, Lesia Dovzhenko, Oleksandr Dubovyk, Yurii Shevchenko, and others. They exhibited easel painting. The thing that was in common for all of them was the position of neo-conformism. “The exhibition was like the first solar prominences in the row of gray official shows, absurd in their spiritual emptiness and creative stagnation.” It was a spurt to complete freedom, to subjective expression.
One of the phenomena of combination of the traditional and the declaratively innovational was the artistic product “Limit of the National Post-Eclecticism Will.” The authors of this project were Kyiv based artists Kostiantyn Reunov and Oleh Tistol. Declaring the fight for the “beauty of stereotypes” they intuitively searched for the national variant of conceptualism. The idea of eclecticism was implemented in combination of painting with elements of pop art and ready-made. Redundancy of the components of the composition, their post-Baroque splendor referred to national sources – to unrestrained decorativism of the Ukrainian Baroque. Along with the breakthrough of the new generation from the underground, non-figurative art came out and legalized itself as a respectable line of Ukrainian fine arts. Mighty Odesa branch of abstractionists suggested a number of high-quality displays to Kyiv, Moscow, and art centers of Western Europe. Silvashi was already forming “color painting” in Kyiv, in Lviv Zvirynsky and his students finally got rid of the “internal emigration” stranglehold. Religious paintings started to appear at exhibitions, themes that have been outcast for a long time (the Jewish perspective, topic of the Holodomor, etc.) were now coming out from the dark.
Later the process of liberation of art from the remnants of ideological dependence unfolded rapidly. This was made possible due to the statements made in press by progressive artists, especially by Academician Andrii Sakharov, and also the publications in the magazine Ohonek (editor – Vitalii Korotych) that described both tragedies of creative individuals and entire nations under the weight of Stalinism and Brezhnev rule.
In Ukraine the legalization of information about the destruction of people and ruining their national memory activated historical memory and realization of the continuity of liberal fight started by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, elevated by Vasyl Stus, Alla Horska, Opanas Zalyvakha and other patriots of Ukraine, who laid their lives for their native land. These factors led to the establishment of the Association of Lion in 1987 in Lviv, and in 1988 there was initiated the Artistic and Nationalist Group “Shliakh.” Program of the members of “The Club of Ukrainian Artists,” founded in 1989 by artists Borys Buriak, Ivan Kovalevych, Dmytro Paruta, Mykola Shymchuk, and others, was close to the ideas of the national revival. The aura of the expositions held by “Pohliad” and “Shliakh” became the spirit of Ukrainian land and phenomenon of ethnic power.
The second half of the 1980s marked the development of extreme branch of art, the so-called new wave. Artistic life gained special dynamic at that time. Contacts of the young artists with independent youth clubs in Moscow and participation in the Union Youth exhibitions provided assurance and opened prospects for development. Exhibitions of works by Gunter Uecker, Robert Rauschenberg, Jannis Kounellis, and James Rosenquist had particular impact on young people. Happenings took place in studios and “home clubs.”
Ukrainian artists joined the postmodernist European experiment using mixing and citing in art games with tradition.
Art of classics of Ukrainian underground from the 1960s and 1970s – group of abstractionists from Odesa, Kyiv-based artists Oleksandr Dubovyk, E. Katkov, Kostiantyn-Vadym Ihnatov, and all those, who supported the aesthetics of “classical avant-garde” with its pathos of novelty, received second wind.
The 1980s was the time of intensive work of Ivan Marchuk (synthesis of folklore and surrealism), Yurii Lutskevych (neo-Baroque), Yevhen Naiden, Liubov Rapoport, Zoia Lerman, Andrii Antoniuk, Dmytro Stetsko, and Alla Honcharuk (modern neo-primitivism). Metaphors with moral, ethic, and religious dominant was represented in the eschatological realism of Halyna Neledva, in the Bible series by Olha Petrova, in canvases by Valerii Hryhorov, Oleksandr Roitburd, Serhii Panych, and Viktor Volodko. In this variety of creative styles and ways of telling the story as a parable the emphasis is made on developing color-plastic values and artistic intuition breakthroughs in the extrarational layers of the subconscious.
Privilege of intuitive “enlightenment” refocused mature master Neledva to “inner vision.”
Olesia Avramenko witnessed phenomenal success of Ukrainian artists at the Youth Exhibition held in 1986 (Moscow, Kuznetsky Bridge). She wrote about the lines of people who wanted to visit the exhibition. Authorities tried to quickly close the exhibition. Young Ukrainian artists Arsen Savadov, Heorhii Senchenko, Kostiantyn Reunov, and Oleh Tistol presented their art works that perplexed even professional art critics. This was the beginning of Ukrainian transavantgarde.
SEDNIV: NEW BALANCE OF POWER
Creative work of the group “Sedniv’89” (organized by Andrii Chebykin and Silvashi) became fundamental for the development of youth art. The first exposition of revolutionary-minded artists was held in the halls of the State Museum of Ukrainian Fine Arts, which was the place of traditional exhibitions of the heads of the Ukraine’s Union of Artists. The fact that unrestrained art with bustling energy of youth, certainly debatable, but attractive due to its sharp view of the world and the novelty of forms finally entered the pharaonic halls of the museum made it the even of historical significance. Sedniv group tried to get talented artists from regional centers like Luhansk, Zhytomyr, Chernivtsi, Poltava, and other Ukrainian cities involved in their activities.
The Exhibition “Sedniv-89” was held in the atmosphere of silencing. Sorrowfully reputed habit of the “stagnation” period – to kill cultural phenomenon by complete silence of Soviet press, worked flawlessly.
However, it is hard to overrate the resonance of the exposition and its importance for the future of Ukrainian art. New generation of artists entered the artistic process, among the young artists there were: Vasyl Bazhai, Oleksandr Babak, Marko Heiko, Serhii and Oleksandr Zhyvotkov, Mykhailo Kryvenko, Petro Lebedynets, Anatolii Kryvolap, Lev Markosian, Ihor Yanovych, Dmytro Kavsan, Olena Ryzhykh, Hlib Vysheslavsky, and Oleksandr Levych. Without exaggeration we may note that Sedniv group created contemporary art in Ukraine in 1988 and 1989. The most radical artists were Roman Zhuk, Pavlo Kerestei, Serhii Panych, Oleksandr Roitburd, and Oleh Holosii realized themselves as artists at that time. Epic form of the painting (large scale formats), allegorical figurativeness, alogism, and surreal scenes – these trends will continue to provide criteria for the present art.
Sedniv group seminars, as if under the magnifying glass, showed the absolutely new balance of powers in the artistic environment: administration of artistic process disappeared, aesthetic regulation went into oblivion, artistic subjectivity finally freed from the underground existence and gained strength. Free creative work of young people abolished rigid thematic and genre definitions.
The artistic search at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s was of mosaic character, had no style and was frankly voluntaristic. Each person could implement alternative reality in it according to the impulses of his own consciousness and subconsciousness. New wave was characterized by automatic style of painting, illogical plots, ironic regrouping of images of the artistic heritage. Radical changes in the minds of young people, who resisted the latest attempts of violence from false realism, were recorded. Healthy interest of young people to the new trends in world art, interest in the extravagant and the acute supported the atmosphere of time trouble. Young people were literally ingesting information immensity, which entered their lives in the time of “perestroika” and mastered the most radical forms: dadaism, conceptual art, chaosmos of text building, aesthetics of “finished object,” necrophilism, and other possibilities of the extremely subjective and ironic postmodernism.
Artistic search in painting was divided between two extremes: psychedelic paintings and works of plastic artists (traditions of “painting field,” minimalism, “painting gesture,” expressive non-figurativeness, etc.). The latter are led by Silvashi. Ukrainian art enriched with modernistic world perspective opened the doors into the 1990s.