The Art of Ukrainian Sixties — a completely new perspective on Ukrainian art of the latter half of the 20th century

Twenty-six scholars of different generations, schools, and professional milieus contributed to The Art of Ukrainian Sixties. This book represents not only a panorama of Ukrainian unofficial art of the 1960s, but also a singular survey of contemporary Ukrainian art scholarship in all its motley polyphonic glory.

The co-editors of the book — Ielyzaveta German and Olga Balashova — not only fixed the best examples of this unique cultural phenomenon in one book, but also made a great research of this critical period in Ukrainian art history.   We’re sharing part of their foreword for the book.

The Art of the Ukrainian Sixties is the first comprehensive edition to represent various aspects of the unofficial Ukrainian culture of the 1960s, covering all the key figures of the time.

Five years have passed between the publication of the first edition of The Art of Ukrainian Sixties in April 2015 and the release of its English translation. Although not exactly long, this has been a sufficient amount of time to assess the book’s content and the ripples made by its appearance as the first great book aimed at bringing together knowledge about the key artists of the 1960s, the work of active sixties researchers, and current views on the era and on its significance today.

The book’s core is comprised of texts on 15 artists, the key figures of the unofficial, or nonconformist, art in Kyiv, Lviv, and Uzhhorod as well as a separate, extensive overview of the Odessa school that emerged by the late 1960s, but wasn’t fully formed until the 1970s.

Exploration of the four Ukrainian cultural hubs of the time allows us to draw conclusions and to track the trends shared by artists from different regions, who not only failed to stay in contact with one another, but also often did not even know about each other. Of course, it goes without saying that the art life of the time was not limited to major cities. Kyiv, amongst others, attracted art students from all regions. Essays on each of the four primary centres, emphasizing their public and cultural impact, are included. This part of the book, for instance, features an essay about Kharkiv, where a unique literary group emerged in the 1960s.

Short monographs supplement the texts about ‘officially sanctioned’ art practices, such as graphics, monumental art, and sculpture, which were also, to some extent, open to formal experiments during the era in question.

The visual works have been provided by courtesy of Ukrainian museums, private collectors, and the artists’ families. The rigorous selection of works reproduced in the present edition was conducted during consultations with artists, scholars, and museum teams who had researched the period.    

Almost all the artists featured in the book have been displayed at both large and small exhibitions, many of which had catalogues printed for them. The first-ever museum retrospective of Florian Yuriev was held by the National Art Museum of Ukraine. Fragments of Valery Lamakh’s Scheme Books were chosen by the curator Adam Shymchyk for exhibit at Document 14, the world’s premier contemporary art forum, and Paul Bedzir’s works were curated by Hedwig Saxenhuber and Georg Schölhammer in the School of Kyiv exhibition at the Second Kyiv International Biennale of Contemporary Art. Auction houses also now regularly hold auctions of “informal art”, reviving interest among collectors for the period and in individual, often neglected, artists.

The figure of Florian Yuriev has become a real symbol of resistance among young architects and activists in the #SaveKyivModernism movement against uncontrolled development in the city. Among other things, Yuriev was the architect of the Litayucha tarilka or Flying Saucer building, which has become one of the brightest symbols of Ukrainian modern architecture.

Unfortunately, over the last five years, a large number of culturally significant mosaic murals have been dismantled in various parts of the country. Some of them were demolished under the 2015 Decommunisation Law on prohibiting Soviet symbols in public space. Other objects that didn’t contain such symbolism have been demolished by people using the law as a convenient excuse for renovations. These relics of the mighty Ukrainian school of monumentalism, which flourished in the 1960s are preserved in the book Decommunised: Ukrainian Soviet Mosaics, produced by Osnovy Publishing and Dom Publishers, and was a direct follow-up to The Art of Ukrainian Sixties.

As the editors of the present volume, we have endeavored to summarize the long-time efforts of the activists behind these projects, the scholars who offered us their essays, museum teams and collectors tasked with preserving the material legacy of the time, and, of course, our protagonists, the artists, some of whom are active to this day.

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