Russian or Ukrainian? Museums update Kazimir Malevich’s nationality

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Officials at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam have reclassified the 20th-century artist Kazimir Malevich as Ukrainian. Malevich, a leading figure in the Suprematist art movement, was previously described as Russian by the museum.

A spokesman for the Stedelijk Museum says that “we now communicate [regarding Malevich]: born in Ukraine to parents of Polish origin.” This information will appear “in all future communications on wall texts and website pages”, he adds. Malevich was born in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in 1879 when the city was part of the Russian Empire.

Meanwhile, curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have reclassified three artists as Ukrainian; the artists—Ivan Aivazovsky, Arkhyp Kuindzhi, and Ilya Repin—were previously labelled as Russians, according to a report in ARTnews.

The Met website describes Kuindzhi as Ukrainian, saying that the site in his work Red Sunset (1905-08) has been “identified as one of Kuindzhi’s preferred subjects, the river called the Dnipro in Ukrainian (Russian, Dnieper; Belarusian, Dnyapro), which runs south through the three countries to the Black Sea”.

The text also includes new information, saying: “In March 2022, the Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol, Ukraine, was destroyed in a Russian airstrike.” Aivazovsky and Repin are also described as Ukrainian on the website.

Kuindzhi was born in Mariupolsky Uyezd in the Yekaterinoslav Governorate, a subdivision of the Russian Empire. Meanwhile, Aivazovsky was born in the Black Sea Port of Feodosia in Crimea; Tatyana Gaiduk, director of the Aivazovsky National Art Gallery in Feodosia, has stated that Aivazovsky was an Armenian while in 2017, the former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed painter Aivazovsky as “part of Ukrainian heritage”.

The National Gallery in London says that “Repin was the leading artist in the Russian Realist movement in the late 19th century. He was born in the Ukraine and started as an icon painter.”

The art historian Oksana Semenik launched a social media campaign to get museums worldwide to reclassify relevant Russian artists as Ukrainians. She tells The Art Newspaper: “All the attention from the audience has helped. With Aivazovsky, I was not asking the Met to make him Ukrainian. But he is certainly not Russian; he was Armenian and lived in Crimea, Ukraine, his whole life.”

The Met did not respond to a request for comment but told ARTnews: “The Met continually researches and examines objects in its collection in order to determine the most appropriate and accurate way to catalogue and present them. The cataloguing of these works has been updated following research conducted in collaboration with scholars in the field.”

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