Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Igor Finds Art - And Almost Vice-Versa

I've been to Lviv something like seven or eight times, so it's a little strange that I've never even noticed the art museum. It's on the Prospekt Svobody, the main drag, a mid-sized stone's throw from the Opera House. Like nearly everything in Lviv, it's formerly grand. These days, it's cold, drafty and smells of must and cigarettes. And with a nearly four-dollar entry fee, it's prohibitively expensive for most Ukrainians. Photography is strictly forbidden, but hey, this is Ukraine. There are ways around that stupid rule. Here's how:

1. Buy a digital camera
2. Bring it with you to Ukraine
3. Go to the art museum
4. Turn off your flash and shutter sound
5. Wait for the exhibit's babushka to fall asleep
6. Snap away!

It's that easy!

They had a fairly excellent collection of medieval icons. St. Paraskeva was a particularly favorite subject. I have no idea why. Unfortunately, all of them were encased in glass and the exhibit babushka was actually a far more spry and less weary zhenshina, so I would have gotten into trouble for taking bad pictures. I didn manage to get a few shots from the less ancient collection. This is when Ukrainian icons began to differ in style from their Russian counterparts. They became prettier and less intense. Eyes and faces are rounder and softer. Meanwhile the Russians continued with their traditional angular simplicity, which, for my money, has always been the way to go. Here is some of what Ukrainians have to offer:

Yeah, I realize that two of these are the same. It was a long time in between shots.

The weirdest examples of icons weren't icons at all, but the metalwork the adorned the icon at one time. They obviously thought these had enough artistic value to hang them up on their own:

They remind me of those crazy plywood cutouts where you put your head and suddenly your in a wacky situation. For these can be religious superstar.

As for non-religious art, there is quite a lot of portraiture, much of it laughably crude - especially that pertaining to Cossacks. It reminds me of folk art. There always seems to be something out of proportion: a tiny head on broad shoulders, eye looking in different directions or a nose that couldn't exist in the real world. You're going to have to take my word for it. All those portraits were in the exhibit babushka's line of sight - and she refused to fall asleep. My eye, however, was drawn to this piece:

One criticism of Ukrainian art is that it's derivative. Yes, that's true, but it's not such a terrible thing at times. Take a look here:

Vermeer much? But hey, it's really quite nice.

After the old art came the (heavy sigh) modern exhibit. It was an entire series of rooms dedicated to the work of one Dmitro Stetsko. It was quite awful. I have no pictures to prove it, though. It wasn't worth photographing, plus there were two spry exhibit babushkas. Suffice to say that there was a lot of repetition and muted tones involved - kind of like what they were doing in Scandinavia prior to the time when they started slashing big, blank canvases. So yes, though Stetsko has an impressive mustache, his art doesn't grab me in any way, shape or form.

And that was my visit to the art museum.


Anonymous said...

"Spry exhibit babushkas"! I've been scolded by more than my share across Russia. In Lviv would they not be exhibit babusyas?

Dino said...

I remember these spry grandmas. They didn't smile either. Good work!