Reading List: Ukrainian Art and Artists

Two books on a shelf with covers featuring blue-and-yellow artworks

In celebration of Ukrainian art, this reading list examines how Ukrainian artists have explored their home country’s history and culture through time. The wide breadth of art represented in the following publications from the collections of the Frick Art Reference Library ranges from Christian icons to the abstract, from the figurative to the avant-garde.

You can come see these books and more in the library’s reading room at Frick Madison, which is free and open to the public by appointment.

Frick Madison grants free admission to visitors who present a Ukrainian passport.

  1. Hnizdovsky: Woodcuts, 1944–1975

    By Abe M. Tahir, Jr. (1976)

    The woodcut prints created by Ukrainian-born artist Jacques Hnizdovsky between 1944 and 1975 prompt the viewer to reconsider unity of form, repetition, pattern, and symmetry in art. Working in New York for most of his professional career, Hnizdovsky made detailed woodcuts of plants and animals that were inspired by his trips to the Bronx Zoo. The 219 prints documented in this striking catalogue raisonné display the artist’s caricature-like style and meticulous detail as he captured the whimsy of viewing these flora and fauna in an urban environment. Hnizdovsky’s bold, lyrical designs reveal how art can incorporate the real and the abstract simultaneously in stylized forms.

    Two pages of a book with detailed woodcuts of a ram and sheep with small heads and legs and huge, wooly bodies
  1. Decommunized: Ukrainian Soviet Mosaics

    By Yevgen Nikiforov (2017)

    Photographer Yevgen Nikiforov traveled 35,000 kilometers over three years around Ukraine to document more than one thousand brilliantly colored, monumental mosaics of the 1950s to the 1980s from the country’s Soviet era. Reconsidering the mosaics’ artistic merit beyond their original propagandistic purpose, this catalog highlights the beauty and novelty of the public artform. The murals—depicted in the book under paired themes of history and ideology, sports and leisure, labor and industrialization, science and space, and folk and national motifs—are tinged with the disappointment of depicting a utopian ideal that was never reached. Regardless, the author argues that they should be honored as art in their own right, since their bright hues and varied styles of social realism transcend the associations with the USSR that now render them endangered due to decommunization efforts.

  1. State Museum of Ukrainian Fine Arts of the Ukrainian SSR (1972)
    (Державний музей українського образотворчого мистецтва УРСР)

    Now known as the National Art Museum of Ukraine, the State Museum of Ukrainian Fine Arts was founded in 1890. A window into the past, this collection catalog highlights works of the pre-revolutionary and Soviet periods to represent different aspects of Ukrainian nationality. Starting with the image of the icon, the first section of the publication proceeds to explore military portraits, early book illustrations and engravings, sculpture, and landscapes of the late nineteenth century. The latter half portrays Ukrainian art after 1917 across genres, offering the reader with a comprehensive view of Ukrainian life through depictions of individuals, labor, historical events, and the natural environment.

    Book on a shelf whose cover features an artwork of young women in black and white headscarves
  1. Alexis Gritchenko: Dynamocolor

    By Vita Susak (2017)

    Coined by artist and critic Alexis Gritchenko in his manifesto of 1919, Dynamocolor is an art movement involving the dynamics of color, Cubism, and the religious icon as its guiding aesthetic principles. This volume elucidates the movement and its historical significance, guiding the reader through Gritchenko’s life and the evolution of his artistic style as he reacted to the emerging “-isms” of modern art. Though he traveled widely throughout Europe during his ninety-four-year life, Gritchenko remained patriotic to Ukraine, writing, “The source of endless joy that I carry in my being, I attribute to my family, my childhood, and Ukraine of my azure days.”

    Book on a shelf whose cover features a detail of a blue, brown, and yellow abstract artwork
  1. The Ukrainian Icon, 11th–18th Centuries: From Byzantine Sources to the Baroque

    By Liudmilla Milyaeva (1996)

    Follow this book’s journey through the regions of Chernigov, Galicia, Kyiv, Transcarpathia, and Volhynia to see how the religious icon has been adapted stylistically and symbolically in different areas of Ukraine. The icon is paramount in Orthodox Christian art and found its epitome in Ukrainian painting between the Byzantine influences of the tenth century and its Baroque expression in the eighteenth century. The adoption and subsequent prevalence of the icon helped the province of Kyivan Rus culturally unite with the rest of Europe, which also followed Byzantine tradition. Frescoes, mosaics, and monumental mural paintings demonstrate the evolution of the Byzantine icon into a distinct national icon that—all within a limited format—encompasses Kyivan history, humanistic values, and Russian painting styles.

    Two pages of a book featuring two elaborately adorned figures with halos and crosses against a gold background
  1. Sonia Delaunay: Art, Design, Fashion

    By Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (2017)

    This catalog, which accompanied the first solo exhibition of Sonia Delaunay’s work at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, features the Odesa-born artist’s multifaceted approach to her work. While her oeuvre is often viewed in tandem with that of her husband, Robert Delaunay, Sonia brought a unique approach to modernism with her distinctive use of color as the superlative element across media. Commemorating the sojourns in Madrid that proved instrumental to her pursuing abstract art, this publication focuses on Delaunay’s foray into the creation of garments and the design of quotidian objects.

    Book on a shelf whose cover features orange, red, and light and dark blue sections of a circle against a red background
  1. Ukrainian Artists in Paris, 1900–1939

    By Vita Susak (2010)

    Learn how Ukrainian-born artists such as Sonia Delaunay, David Burliuk, Alexandra Exter, Chana Orloff, and Alexander Archipenko helped define the School of Paris in the early twentieth century. In this comprehensive monograph, author Vita Susak, former head of the Department of Modern European Art at the Lviv National Art Gallery, illuminates the cultural context and immense contributions of Ukrainian émigré artists to the Parisian avant-garde. In this enlightening text, Susak highlights the globalization of the art world during this era, as artists from Ukraine began to study beyond their country’s borders in Russia and France while striving to retain distinctly Ukrainian identities.

    Book on a shelf whose cover featured an abstract yellow Cubist figure
  1. My Life with Alexander Archipenko

    By Frances Archipenko Gray (2014)

    The author of this autobiographical work met famous Ukrainian-American sculptor Alexander Archipenko in 1955 and chronicled his life until its end, in 1964. Gray, who was fifty years the artist’s junior when she married him in 1960, provides the reader with in-depth recollections that divulge aspects of the abstract sculptor’s true personality, his thoughts on art, and his endeavor to remain relevant as the art world’s interests shifted from modernism to abstract expressionism. Through this personal account, the life and work of the “Picasso of sculpture” are considered in a holistic manner that elucidates both the struggles and joys of the artist’s life.

  1. Treasures of Early Ukrainian Art: Religious Art of the 16th–18th Centuries

    By Stefania Hnatenko (1989)

    Iconostases—or tall wooden structures containing icon paintings that separate the altar and sanctuary of Orthodox churches—are the focus of this catalog that accompanied an exhibition at The Ukrainian Museum in New York. As anchors in the interior design of churches in the cities of Lviv, Rohatyn, and Zhovtansi, these visual theologies harken back to Biblical stories and the history of the Christian faith in Ukraine. The iconostases are also in dialogue with illuminated manuscripts and early printed books, incorporating similar decorative aspects such as the plant motifs of Ukrainian folk art and providing deeper insights into Ukrainian culture than one might expect from religious paintings.

  1. Archived Website: The Museum of Modern Art of Ukraine

    Courtesy of our partnership with the Collaborative ART Archive (CARTA), which preserves art-related web content, the website of The Museum of Modern Art of Ukraine in Kyiv was captured and archived four times in 2022. By clicking on a date in the calendar, users can visit past versions of the museum’s website virtually to explore—as users would have on the date of capture—its electronically browsable collection of six thousand artworks representing eight hundred artists. Web archiving efforts such as the CARTA initiative are crucial in preserving ephemeral arts materials, such as online exhibitions and born-digital content, as well as in documenting institutions, particularly those at risk, over time.

    Screenshot of an archived museum website in Ukrainian

All book photos by Joseph Coscia Jr., The Frick Collection

Link(s): Tags:
Facebook Twitter Threads