Before Russian forces invaded Ukraine, the Voloshyn Gallery in Kyiv was preparing an exhibition of works by Oleksiy Sai. Although the gallery did not know it at the time, the works on display would be oddly relevant. They depicted bombed areas in Ukraine.
Soon the gallery was full of people, but not for the opening night of Sai’s show. Artists, colleagues and family members have placed mattresses and bags next to the work. They were using the gallery as a bomb shelter.
More than 5,600 miles away in Miami, gallery owners Max and Julia Voloshyn were standing in a space where they’re hosting a pop-up exhibit called “Memory on Her Face.” While their 2-year-old daughter, Daniella, watched cartoons in her pram, Max scrolled through photos from his family’s gallery in Kyiv on his phone. History repeated itself. The building the gallery is in was a bomb shelter during World War II, Max and Julia said.
“It’s hard now,” Julia said. “In one day, everything changed.”
The pop-up exhibition in Miami features paintings, digital works, videos and sculptures by five artists: Nikita Kadan, Lesia Khomenko, Oleksiy Sai, Nikolai Karabinovich and Maria Sulymenko. The politically charged works on display, which reflect Ukrainian life in recent years, have taken on new meaning since the start of the war. The couple decided to extend the pop-up until March 28 to protest the war and seek ways to help their artists and fellow Ukrainians while they wait for the war to end in Miami.
One of Sai’s pieces from his “Bombed” series can be seen at the pop-up. It is a large green and yellow work on aluminum that looks like it has been riddled with bullets. The coin depicts a bird’s eye view of the Donbass region, an area in eastern Ukraine that was overrun by Russian forces in 2014. Now the coin depicts the entire country, said the couple.
“This show has become very timely,” Julia said. “All the works are really related to what is happening right now in Ukraine.”
“Especially this work by Nikita Kadan,” she said, showing a photo of a partially destroyed building in Donbass. Kadan took the photo of the building, printed it on a silkscreen, and mounted it on a dark metal shield like a curtain.
The dark black and white image printed on the silk moves delicately when a person passes by or a gust of wind blows. It is a reminder of the vulnerability of democracy, explained Julia.
“When things move, you can see how fragile our life is, how fragile our country is,” she said. “And not just Ukraine, but everyone.”
Kadan’s artwork, called “Broken Pole”, was one of the few pieces from the pop-up that sold. The customer who purchased the coin donated $1,000 to a Ukrainian charity, Julia said.
After extending the pop-up, Max and Julia worked on a “second part” in another location, possibly in the Design District, and other opportunities to secure residencies for the artists they represent. . They hope for more visitors, sales and donations for charity.
“Americans who come to the expo all want to support in one way or another,” Julia said.
An extended stay
Julia and Max opened their first gallery, which focused on classical Ukrainian art, as students and ran it for about 10 years. Later, they became interested in contemporary art and opened Volochyn Gallery in 2016. The chic exhibition space, located in a historic building, is close to the cultural city center of kyiv and within walking distance of a park, museums, cafes and bars.
The gallery has participated in several international contemporary art fairs, including NADA Miami and UNTITLED Art Miami Beach at the end of last year. After a busy Miami Art Week, the family fell ill with COVID-19, delaying their return home. They then found a small warehouse in Allapattah to house “The Memory on Her Face”. The pop-up aims to create a bridge between Ukrainian artists and the United States, said Omar Lopez-Chahoud, curator of the pop-up as well as UNTITLED.
“They’re putting in a lot of effort, especially now, to really support the ecosystem,” he said. “It’s not just the artists, it’s everything related to Ukrainian art and history.”
Julia and Max had never planned to stay in Miami this long. They were going to finish the pop-up at the end of February to go home in March. Although there were reports of a potential war, Russia’s sudden invasion took them by surprise.
Julia was up late on February 23 and had just put Daniella to sleep. She opened her laptop to work when she noticed that all her Facebook friends were online when it was 5 a.m. the next day in Ukraine. Even his mother was awake.
Their friends would post about heard explosions and planes in the sky. Her mother, who lives near an airport, said the blasts rattled the windows of her home. The couple said they were particularly concerned about civilians, including children, who have been targeted by Russian missiles.
“It’s pretty criminal,” Max said.
“It’s fascism,” added Julia.
“Do Something Bigger”
Voloshyn’s story resonated with Frederic Snitzera longtime gallerist from Miami who read about their exhibit at The New York Times. He noticed that the location of the pop-up seemed familiar to him. They were practically neighbors, he said.
He went to the pop-up and offered space in his nearby gallery to work for a few months. Now the galleries are collaborating on a fundraising exhibition for April to send support to Ukrainian humanitarian organizations as soon as possible, he said. The show will feature Ukrainian and American artists.
“Our solution to everything is to write a check, so I thought it would be good to do something bigger,” Snitzer said.
Snitzer’s gallery plans to contact local artists to donate a limited number of pieces for the exhibit, he said. Customers who purchase a work from the exhibition will make the check directly payable to a charity organization or a Ukrainian organization.
“We think there are more things we can do to help from here,” Max said.
When asked if they would ever return to their home country, the couple didn’t hesitate. Of course they will, they said. Their American friends have suggested asking for political asylum, but they are not convinced.
“We love Ukraine,” Max said.
Their plan to return home remains. For now, it’s a matter of when.
The memory on her face
Information: E-mail [email protected] to schedule a free visit.
On view until March 28, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial support of the Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism grant program. The Miami Herald retains full editorial control of this work..