The Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion. Photo courtesy Ukrainian Institute.
Art and architecture may not be the first things most westerners would associate with Ukraine. The Eastern European nation has a long a history of both, however, including the famous, gold-domed St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev. On January 25th, Ukrainian artists Daria Marchenko and Daniel D. Green brought this artistic lineage to New York City with the unveiling of their new large-scale multimedia exhibition Five Elements of War at the Ukrainian Institute.
Housed in the palatial Fletcher-Sinclair mansion on the Upper East Side, the Institute serves as a cultural nexus for the large Ukrainian diaspora in the city, hosting events and exhibitions aimed at promoting Ukrainian arts and culture. “There aren’t many venues in New York where you can find Ukrainian art,” said Walter Hoydysh, art director at the Institute. “So we seek out contemporary and modern artists and bring them here to show them on Museum Mile.”
“The Flesh of War.” Photo courtesy Ukrainian Institute.
Five Elements of War grapples with the cost and causes of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and ethnic-Russian separatists. Bullet casings, shrapnel, and documents gathered from the frontlines are incorporated with thick daubs of oil and acrylic paint to create a highly textured and imposing canvasses that succeed in confronting the viewer with the harsh reality on the front lines of the contested Donetsk People’s Republic.
“The Brain of War” Photo courtesy Ukrainian Institute.
Each individual piece reflects an aspect of the conflict, the costliest on European soil since the Second World War. The Brain of War, for instance, an oversized and paint-spattered grenade studded with cameras, emphasizes the insidious role of propaganda and surveillance while evoking the ready mades of Marcel Duchamp and the New York Dadaists.
At the far end of the cavernous second-floor ballroom looms The Face of War, a seven-foot portrait of Vladimir Putin that captures the autocrat’s dour likeness with uncanny accuracy using only spent bullet casings. As the color and direction of the lighting changes, the expression shifts with it as if to underscore the essentially human cause of this and every conflict.
“The Face of War” Photo courtesy Ukrainian Institute.
The shifting iridescent light also bathed the sizeable crowd that turned out on a frigid Thursday evening in golden, purple and crimson hues. The exhibition lighting mingled with the soft glow of the grand chandeliers and wall sconces served to highlight the century-old interior of the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, most of it original and painstakingly maintained over the past decades.
Marchenko and Green’s artwork certainly garnered heaps of well-deserved praise, but the old French Gothic manor was itself worthy of the crowd. Wonderfully ornate banisters and hand-carved molding abut burnished floors of dark hardwood and parquet. Though only a small tranche of the building was open to visitors for the exhibition, it served as an ideal venue.
“Any exhibit assumes a whole different stature and quality when it’s displayed in this hall,” Hoydysh said. “It’s the bones of this building. Classical or contemporary, it shines here.” Outside, gargoyles, Juliet balconies, and bow windows jut into the air above Fifth Avenue, known at the time of the mansion’s construction in 1897 as “Millionaire’s Row” for its procession of opulent mansions belonging to New York’s growing crop of Gilded Age industrialists. “It’s a magnificent building,” said Hoydysh. “What more could an artist ask for than such a space for display?” What more indeed.
The Five Faces of War is open to the public, Tuesday through Sunday afternoons, until February 4th.
Want more arts and architecture? Next, check out Anthony McCall’s Immersive Light Installlations Now on Display in Brooklyn and See Photos of the Restored Canopy of a Tiffany Masterpiece at NYC’s Carnegie Mansion. Get in touch with the author @jonahinserra