A secret convoy of two trucks containing 51 rare works of art slipped out of Kyiv early Tuesday, hours before waves of Russian missiles began raining down on the capital and other cities. Ukraine.
The task of moving the works west to Lviv, across the border into Poland and then 3,000 kilometers later across Europe to Madrid was unexpectedly dangerous, even in wartime. Much of the country was plunged into darkness The energy infrastructure has been under fire. Lviv was targeted as the trucks were passing by.
As the trucks approached the Ukrainian-Polish border, a stray missile landed in the nearby Polish village of Przewodów, It threatens a major escalation of the war.
After five days on the road, the artworks have arrived at their destination, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in the Spanish capital, where they will be shown next week in a major exhibition of avant-garde Ukrainian art.
In the Eye of the Storm: Modernity in Ukraine 1900-1930 Museums For Ukraine, an initiative supported by European museums and galleries to protect and celebrate Ukrainian cultural objects and collections.
The exhibition is claimed to be the most comprehensive survey of modern Ukrainian art to date, with previously unseen works on loan from the National art Museum of Ukraine and Special Collections, among others.
The gallery’s 70 works include oil paintings, sketches, collages and stage designs, and it showcases works by Ukrainian modernists Oleksandr Pohomazov, Vasyl Yermilov, Victor Palmov and Anatole Petritsky. It also showcases the work of artists who were born and began their careers in Ukraine but became famous abroad, including Alexandra Exeter, Vladimir Baranov-Rusin, and Sonia Delaunay.
Ukrainian modernism developed against the backdrop of World War I, the collapse of empires, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Ukrainian War of Independence, and the eventual creation of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
During the Stalinist repressions of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, artists, writers and theater directors were imprisoned in concentration camps and executed.
Artworks collector Francesca Tessin-Bornemisza, which founded Museums for Ukraine in March, said the trucks containing the artworks “were packed in secrecy to protect the visual reference of the largest and most important export of Ukraine’s cultural heritage that has left the country since the start of the war.”
She added, “Transferring these businesses to safety was not without risk, but the priority to do so remained largely because the Russian army showed a persistent disrespect for the covenants of the Hague Convention. They instigated large-scale plundering in all occupied territories, and more than 500 cultural heritage buildings.
She said Russia’s war in Ukraine “was not just about land theft but about controlling the nation’s narrative and its cultural heritage”. “As we watch history repeat itself, this exhibition is a powerful reminder of just how close we are to yet another catastrophe.”
The exhibition will open with a video message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. A symposium of European cultural figures discusses the role of cultural solidarity in times of crisis.
The exhibition will run in Madrid until next April, and then move to Cologne and possibly other European venues.