Monumental Art of Late Modernism in the Zhytomyr Region

is a research project that focuses on the objects of monumental art that originated from the Zhytomyr region in the period of the 1960-1980s. The project team aspires to attract the public attention to the authentical phenomenon of Ukrainian art and to return into the contemporary art discourse (not only the local discourse but also the world one) important works of the past. The two-language web archive of mosaics, stained-glass windows, sculptures, and architectural objects of the Zhytomyr region, created on the research basis, presents the extraordinary achievements of Ukrainian monumentalists in the present context.

The project goal is, first of all, to encourage the public to critically reflect on the history of Ukrainian art. The authors of the web archive insist that there is an urgent need to review the simplistic perspective on artistic phenomena and the creative environment of Soviet Ukraine. Indeed, the promotion and state support of ideological works were rooted in the institutional structure of Soviet art. However, many Ukrainian artists managed to avoid adherence to the Party regulations and directives in their oeuvre.

The process of decommunization, launched in 2015,  within which, in particular, the objects of monumental art of the Soviet period are destroyed, sharply raised the question of our perspective on our own history and culture. Unlike conventional painting, artworks of monumental artists are not defined as cultural heritage at the state level. Understanding these works is obstructed due to the lack of relevant research that could provide a basis for the selection of artistically valuable works among propaganda. According to the authors of the project, careful study and sharing of information, instead of negation and oblivion, should be the main means in defining the cultural heritage of Ukraine.

Cataloguing and capturing of the current condition of the artworks is, above all, a prerequisite for their scrutiny. An electronic catalogue of the objects is also the first step in developing a system for their preservation. Within four months, the project team led by Yevgen Nikiforov (the photographer, the author of the book Decommunized: Ukrainian Soviet Mosaics) worked on the determination of the location of the artworks in the Zhytomyr region, studied documents of the city and regional archives, carried out the attribution of known works, and sought evidence of the already destroyed pieces.

The primary sources of the research are: the minutes of meetings of the board of the Zhytomyr Union of Artists; the photo funds of the Zhytomyr Union of Artists, the regional archives and Zhytomyr Museum of Local History; the personal cases of the artists, the minutes of meetings of the Artistic Council of the Zhytomyr Arts and Industrial Workshops of the Ukrainian SSR Art Fund; the interview with artists or their relatives. The attribution of the objects of the Zhytomyr region is complicated with the fragmentary nature of the archival descriptions. Due to the limited informative potential of the primary sources and their ideological bias, the authors of the project encourage the public to contribute to streamlining the history of art in Ukraine by engaging in the research as well.

The materials collected by the team have become the basis for this website with an interactive map which gives a clear idea of the range of monumental art in the period of modernism in the Zhytomyr region. The web archive includes objects that are diverse in form and purpose: from decorative bus pavilions, carried out within the framework of the state program of road improvement, to fancy dining rooms and lobbies in the premises of industrial production. It illuminates the statistics, the geography and the regional differences of the local works. The open web resource will have great practical and research value for different audiences.