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


In June 2024, the Royal Academy of Arts is set to unveil a landmark exhibition titled “In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine, 1900–1930s“, which promises to be the most comprehensive display of Ukrainian modern art in the UK to this date. The exhibition, hosted at the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries from 29 June to 13 October 2024, aims to showcase a pivotal moment in East European art history through the lens of about 70 masterpieces. These pieces are to be borrowed from prestigious institutions such as the National Art Museum of Ukraine and the Museum of Theatre, Music, and Cinema of Ukraine. The spotlight will be on iconic figures like Alexander Archipenko, Sonia Delaunay, Alexandra Exter, and Kazymyr Malevych. Additionally, it will illuminate the contributions of perhaps less internationally recognized yet equally influential artists such as Mykhailo Boichuk, Oleksandr Bohomazov, and Vasyl Yermilov. Each artist played a crucial role in shaping modernism within Ukraine and leaving a significant impact on the broader European art scene during the tumultuous early decades of the twentieth century.

Geopolitically, Ukraine’s status as a contested borderland has deeply influenced its cultural and national identity formation. The land had been partitioned among various empires for centuries, with the notion of a unified Ukrainian nation emerging only in the late nineteenth century. Independent, yet fleeting, moments in Ukraine’s history were critical in cultivating a sense of national identity. This intricate history has led to a rich cultural tapestry, blending Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish influences into a unique cultural entity.

The era that “In the Eye of the Storm” focuses on was marked by significant upheaval: World War I, the disintegration of empires, the revolutionary fervour of 1917, the ephemeral independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (1917–20), and the establishment of Soviet Ukraine in 1922. Despite, or perhaps because of, this political volatility, there was an extraordinary surge in artistic and literary creativity. Ukrainian modernism was not just a reflection of artistic trends occurring in Western Europe; it was a vibrant, avant-garde movement that breathed life into art, literature, theatre, and cinema, evidencing a bold experimentation and fervent national spirit. This exhibition seeks to explore these dynamics, offering visitors an insight into a critical period of creative innovation and the forging of a distinct Ukrainian modernist identity.