Notes at an exhibition

The NYT writes in an art review (registration required) devoted to an exhibition of “Ukrainian modernists”:

Kazimir Malevich, El Lissitsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Alexander Archipenko and Alexandra Exter were actually born, or identified themselves as, Ukrainian. According to a new exhibition at the ambitious Ukrainian Museum, it was the Ukrainian-ness of some of the greats in modern Russian art that informed their contributions to the Modernist movements of the 20th century.

There were times when “Ukrainian culture” was not contrasted with “Russian culture”; rather, “Ukrainian” denoted one of the most important ethnic cultures under the umbrella of the imperial culture one might call Russian. Even with that in mind, “Malevich was a Ukrainian painter” is misleading, as are statements like “Hugo Wolf was a Slovenian composer,” “Kafka was a Czech writer,” or “Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright”.

Malevich (Malewicz) was born into a Polish family in Ukraine, studied in Kiev, which was then a Russian-speaking city, and moved to Moscow. El Lissitsky was born into a Jewish family not far from Smolensk, Russia, studied in Germany, worked in Belarus alongside Chagall, and lived in Moscow for most of his mature years. Exter was born Alexandra Grigorovich in what is now Poland (Bialystok), studied in Kiev and Paris, and lived mostly outside of Ukraine. Rodchenko was born in St. Petersburg, studied in Kazan, and never lived in Ukraine. This leaves Archipenko, a native of Kiev who studied there but soon moved to France and eventually, to the US, where he lived for over 40 years, becoming an American citizen.

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