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Henry M. Robert

A leader of the Ukrainian constructivism

Kharkiv Art Museum launched an exhibition of graphic works by famous 20th century Ukrainian artist and designer Vasyl Yermylov
26 March, 2014 - 18:08
FEAR (1913)

Exhibition is dedicated to his 120th anniversary, an important date for Ukrainian culture, which, however, is now only rarely mentioned. Unusually, the event’s name is the “Kharkiv Job.” Why Job? In fact, Russian poet Boris Slutsky chose this title for his poem dedicated to Yermylov. It is a spectacular paradox: the poem shows life of an avantgardist, constructivist, seemingly not very religious person in the light of the biblical story of righteous man Job’s prosperous life, his subsequent sufferings, trials, and steadiness in his faith and beliefs.

Yermylov really was one of the most brilliant artists of Soviet Ukraine in the 1920s, a key figure of constructivism (he cooperated for a time with the chief representative of constructivism in Ukrainian literature, his friend poet Valerian Polishchuk, as they made the Avangard magazine together). His interesting experiments, from fonts to installations, still look modern now. However, Yermylov certainly suffered persecution in the 1930s-1950s. Fortunately, he was not arrested, but he lived a hard life, his works being almost completely banned from public display, some of them perishing in wartime or during the obscurantist “fight against formalism.” Still, he continued to work and keep faith. As the chief promoter of the Ukrainian avant-garde, art critic Dmytro Horbachov recalls, Yermylov was sure of future fame late in his life after his “rehabilitation.” It has been this way, more or less.

Yermylov’s current world fame comes primarily from his minimalist playing with shapes and space. Even the tomb of the Kharkivite artist looks like a constructivist installation! This small exhibition, though, shows something different. It displays predominantly less minimalist legacy of different periods of Yermylov’s art. There are even slightly expressionist pre-war portraits, almost idyllic scenery and posters, created in a blend of early futurism and modernism, although an absolutely textbook design of agitation train “Red Ukraine” is on show, too. The works on show are kept in the collections of the Kharkiv Art Museum and by private owners.

Outside-the-box Yermylov can be seen in his native Kharkiv context until April 10, while the exhibition lasts.

By Oleh KOTSAREV. Photo replica by the author
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