The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art unites the community in the midst of war

Founded as an artistic outlet in difficult times, the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA) is a hotbed of creativity and hope for Ukrainians and Chicagoans.

Housed in the heart of the Ukrainian Village since 1971, the Institute was created to provide a space for artists to express themselves through literary readings, dance and physical art, according to UIMA curator Adrienne Kochman.

Kochman said the museum was born out of the Soviet Union censor creative expression in Ukraine, which Kochman says is “really relevant” today, “given the war in Ukraine and this threat of dictatorship again.”

Demonstrations in the streets and protests against the war in Ukraine have spread throughout the city and district as Chicagoans and Ukrainians show their support for the nation.

“So many people feel helpless and frustrated and want to say something,” Kochman said.

In 1979, the Institute’s collection grew so large that the founding artists and collectors were forced to expand to the current location (2320 W. Chicago Ave.) – two storefront rooms converted into a minimalist design by Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman.

The first room currently houses “Naturally”, a joint exhibition between Judith Roston Freilich and Lilach Schrag. Freilich’s work in the exhibition consists of torn paper and fabric, while Schrag uses recycled materials to create sculptures and paintings scattered throughout the room.

Museum-goer Marcia Matus, an art graduate who was looking for a new exhibit to enjoy, did her best to soak up the art by slowly walking around the room.

“It’s just the most intriguing work,” Matus said of Freilich’s work. “You watch it from afar, but when you get up close and see how it’s done, it’s just a whole other job.”

Adrienne Kochman was hired on staff at UIMA in late summer 2017.

Freilich, a Chicago native, had visited the museum several times before exhibiting her work there and said she was honored to have the opportunity to be part of the Institute.

“Because I don’t live in the Ukrainian community, I tried to bring people to UIMA to spread awareness of Ukrainian culture,” Freilich wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “During this difficult time, that feeling has only grown stronger.”

Alongside Freilich, Schrag’s pieces are a combination of his new and old works, reconfigured for today’s exhibition. Currently based in Chicago, Schrag was born in Israel and didn’t move to America until her thirties.

She hopes people can “take encouragement” from the exhibition, as her work is inspired by the eternal things in the world – nature, art and relationships.

“I really enjoy seeing what they do for their community,” Schrag said of UIMA. “They do a wonderful job of promoting and educating people about their specific and rich culture.”

Austin Hojdar | The Phoenix “Naturally” features torn paper art on the walls and sculptures filling the space.

“Naturally” by Freilich and Schrag will be shown until April 3, 2022.

Assistant Curator Christina Wyshnytzky began working at the Institute to reconnect with her Ukrainian roots after earning her art history degree from DePaul University. Wyshnytzky has lived his whole life in the Ukrainian village and said the Institute has created an environment that is open to everyone.

“I think a lot of art can alleviate a lot of trauma,” Wyshnytzky said. “I think it can unite people in a way and dissect a lot of issues that arise.”

The East Room of UIMA is dedicated to a rotation of works from the Institute’s permanent collection of approximately 1,200 pieces spanning decades. According to Kochman, about 75% of the work is done by artists connected to Ukraine, with the rest based in Chicago.

Occupying two corners of the room are kinetic piano wire sculptures, designed by UIMA co-founder Konstantin Milonadis. The walls are lined with prints and paintings, including Byzantine-style nudes by Polish artist Jerzy Nowosielski and the work of Chicago-based Anatole Kolomayets, inspired by Cubism and Modernism.

In this second room, the UIMA selects pieces from its collection that correlate in one way or another.

“Usually we think about themes,” Kochman said. “How can the works speak to each other around a particular issue?

Kochman saw artists and friends who chose to stay in Ukraine and share their experiences through social media. This inspired those at the UIMA to convert their second hall into a place of protest for public contributions.

Kochman said the work doesn’t need polishing, but the Institute wants to provide a platform for people to express their feelings during this time in the coming months.

“We see what they’re doing,” Kochman said. “We would like them to know what we are doing. We support them, we care about them. We are crying, we are heartbroken and we are very worried.

The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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