Exhibition brochure

David Burliuk 1882-1967

David Burliuk , n.d.
photographer unknown

David Burliuk was born into a large family at the colorful and lush Semyrotivka homestead near the village of Riabushky in the Kharkiv region. He studied in Odesa and Kazan before attending the Munich Royal Academy and then the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Burliuk became the quintessential modernist, tying the colors and textures of local Ukrainian folk traditions to the dynamic rapture of modernist urban life. Bold in personality and large in stature, Burliuk became renowned as the initiator of radical avant-garde performances and events (called “poezoconcerts”), establishing his reputation as the impetuous leader of an avant-garde movement that aimed to break with stultifying literary-artistic convention and create a refreshingly new vision for the future.

David Burliuk, Man with Two Faces, 1912, oil on canvas

Burliuk’s Futurism—a rambunctious, aggressive artistic orientation—grew out of a small but widely influential literary-artistic group that called itself “Hylaea,” borrowing the Greek name for the ancient Scythian lands at the mouth of the Dnipro River on the northern shores of the Black Sea. For Burliuk, this legendary land conjured images of mighty warrior horsemen, archers, and skilled craftsmen working largely in precious metals, which they wrought into exquisite objects of abstract shapes. The reference to Hylaea invokes the very tropes of Burliuk’s brand of Futurism: animalistic energies, raw materials and their essential properties, a celebratory fusion of past traditions with the technological present, and, always, the constancy of time charging forward, melding past and present into one steady stream.

David Burliuk
Japanese Woman, 1922, oil on burlap

In his autobiographical essay, “Memoirs of a Futurist,” David Burliuk stated that “the bones of my ancestors” are in Ukraine. Indeed, his roots could be traced to the arid and rocky territory of Crimea and the settlements along the Black Sea coast where many Futurist activities took place on the Mordvinov estate managed by Burliuk’s father. David’s childhood was spent amidst the spacious steppes of Slobozhanshchyna in Eastern Ukraine, with its open plains of rich green grasses and vast skies, which accounts for the breezy openness of his landscapes and still lifes and the generally horizontal format of his compositions. This was the region where the lore of the Cossacks still lingered and where their descendants abounded.

David Burliuk, Cossack Mamai, 1908, oil on burlap

By adopting as a thematic subject the ubiquitous populist image of the Cossack Mamai—a wandering defender of the people shown resting from his journeys in the presence of his trusted steed, and the accoutrements of his station in life identifying him as a warrior, poet, and minstrel—the artist established a modernist cipher of spiritual transcendence of the kind codified by Wassily Kandinsky and the German Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) group, to which Burliuk belonged in the 1910s. Like Kandinsky, Burliuk depicted the horse as an agent of universal preternatural powers—an idea derived from their shared interest in folk traditions, nave paintings, peasant handicraft, and children’s art.

David Burliuk
Harlem River, 1924, oil on canvas

This exhibition showcases two main threads of Burliuk’s life’s work: a cultivated naveté (or primitivism) and faktura, a textural essence expressed through intense colors and rhythmic variety. The ordinariness of his subjects—communal scenes of simple peasants at their daily routines in overgrown gardens or around the kitchen table—belies the underlying existentialism of Burliuk’s art. The “earthiness” of these scenes represents a brutal strength, a sensitivity to ecology, and a reverence for the natural cycles of life. As part of the Futurist dictum, life was to be absorbed through its raw energies, and Burliuk sought to capture this quality in his miniatures painted on simple, roughly hewn wooden blocks, as well as in the thick impasto of his paintings.

David Burliuk
Viktor Palmov, 1921, oil on canvas

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Burliuk’s Futurism captured the aspirations of a world caught up in tumultuous change. Accompanied by declarations and manifestos such as “A Slap in the Face of the Bourgeoisie,” the movement was notorious for its impulsive, agitational and confrontational character. The boisterous Futurists painted their faces with “lines of force” that signaled vitality and spread their ideas throughout the Empire—from small towns to large cities, from Kyiv to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and as far east as Vladivostok.

This exhibition is the first to mark the stages of Burliuk’s art and to identify the distinct periods of artistic innovation defined by his peripatetic life. A panoply of styles—from neo-primitivism and cubo-futurism to expressionism—characterize Burliuk’s prolific output.

David Burliuk
Café de Nuit, 1949, oil on canvas

After launching a “Futurist tour” into Siberia (1918-1920) and bringing Futurism to Japan (1920-1922), he immigrated to the United States and pursued a conceptual approach that involved biocentric and technological vitalism, a manner he called the “Radio-Style.” By invoking the physics of radio waves, Burliuk sought to tap hidden forces, uniting primordial energies with modern scientific progress while unleashing “memory experiences” of places he had seen or visited. Burliuk’s immigrant perspective on the working classes of the 1930s and 1940s in lower Manhattan offers a unique, and still largely unstudied, contribution to American Social Realism. The final decades of his life were spent on Long Island, from which he explored the Eastern seaboard and continued to participate in the artistic life of New York.

David Burliuk,
Crimea, 1956, oil on canvas

This exhibition was conceived and is curated by Dr. Myroslav Shkandrij of the University of Manitoba. It follows on the heels of a major show of Ukrainian Modernism at The Ukrainian Museum in 2006/2007 that included a Burliuk work produced in Ukraine. Thanks to the generosity of the artist’s granddaughter, Mary Clare Burliuk, the current exhibition broadens and enriches our knowledge about David Burliuk and allows us to understand how truly comprehensive, global, and wide-ranging was his artistic worldview.

Prof. Myroslava M. Mudrak
The Ohio State University

The exhibition, organized by the Winnipeg Art Gallery where seventy of Burliuk’s works were shown, is presented at The Ukrainian Museum with forty additional paintings.

All works on exhibit have been generously lent by Mary Clare Burliuk, the artist’s granddaughter, except for the painting Harlem River (1924), an important example of Burliuk’s “Radio-Style,” which is on loan from Dr. Oleh and Oksana Tsiselsky.

Curator of the exhibition
Prof. Myroslav Shkandrij
University of Manitoba

WAG Project Manager: Helen Delacretaz
UM Curatorial Input: Prof. Jaroslav Leshko
UM Project Manager: Maria Shust

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