Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Ornamental Constructivism: Elements of Ukrainian Folk Art in the Avant-Garde Experiments of Vasyl Yermilov

Fri31  Mar01:00pm(15 mins)
Fore Hall


Katia Denysova1
1 The Courtauld Institute of Art, UK


Ukrainian art historians routinely refer to the artist Vasyl Yermilov (1894-1968) as ‘the leader of the Ukrainian Constructivist school’. Yet, until recently, many international museums would classify his works as belonging to ‘Russian Constructivism’. A native of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, Yermilov spent most of his life in his hometown. In the 1920s-30s, the artist created bold experiments with visual form as inspired by Cubism, Suprematism and later Constructivism. His works from the period, however, are also characterised by the abundance of decorative elements derived from Ukrainian folk traditions. While building on the existing scholarship, mostly from Ukraine, the proposed paper applies a new lens to the analysis of Yermilov’s work, situating his oeuvre within a broader context of cultural debates in Soviet Ukraine that advocated divergent versions of national self-expression under communism. Such an approach challenges the existing interpretation of Yermilov’s artistic output, and Ukrainian art of the period at large, reassessing its peripheral position vis-à-vis the Moscow-centre. The paper contributes to the efforts to decolonise the post-Soviet space by subverting the established canon of ‘Russian avant-garde art’. Instead, the argument is made for a national version of modernism developed in Soviet Ukraine in the 1920s, while the applicability of the label ‘Constructivism’ to Yermilov’s art is also reconsidered.