New York Daily News
Ukrainian Avant-Garde Art:
The Odessan Parisians
At the turn of the 20th century, an Odessan local by the name of Yakov Pereman, a successful Jewish entrepreneur, the chairman of the Odessan Jewish radical party “Workers of Zion”, and a connoisseur of modernist art, put together a large collection of Post-Impressionist and Cubist paintings created by a group of young Odessan artists many of whom spent some time in Paris in close proximity to the great French masters of the period. It’s hard to resist the notion that Pereman, in deciding to buy the collection, was at least indirectly challenging the preeminence of his rivals, the big-time businessmen and art patrons from the two largest cities of the Russian North, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, who through their patronage were instrumental in familiarizing the Russian public with the latest artistic trends in Western Europe. Pereman ventured to put Odessa on the Russian Empire art map in a big way, and he apparently succeeded, for the artists that he had picked, dubbed by critics ‘Odessan Parisians’ quickly became appreciated by their famous colleagues in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Several major joint exhibitions followed.
In 1919, Pereman managed to save his collection from the ruin of the Russian Civil War by moving it to Palestine where it was meant to serve as a basis for a museum. However his dream did not materialize and the paintings of the Odessan avant-garde were kept largely in the Pereman family with only infrequent and brief public viewings. Nonetheless the works influenced several generations of Israeli painters, thus realizing a small part of Pereman original intention.
In 2010, the Pereman collection was discovered by Ms. Sonya Bekkerman, Senior Vice President, Russian Paintings at Sotheby’s New York. “It was very exciting to help bring such a beautiful and historically significant collection back to the public sphere,” said Bekkerman. Her dream was to preserve the integrity of the grouping by preventing it from being sold piecemeal. Ms. Bekkerman found her ideal buyers in a well-known Ukrainian and German businessman and philanthropist Boris Fuchsmann and his two partners, Andrey Adamovsky and Alexander Suslensky. The trio set up The Ukrainian Avant-Garde Art Foundation, thereby finally realizing Pereman’s dream --a permanent home, a museum. “It is only appropriate that the grand world-wide tour for the collection starts in New York, which today is the art capital of the entire planet,” said Mr. Adamovsky. For Mr. Suslensky, the tour is “a way to bring back to light the names of a bunch of very talented Odessa lads, unfairly long forgotten. “
As to Mr. Boris Fuchsmann, he is something of a reincarnation of Yakov Pereman himself, a big dreamer and a big doer. In the mid 1990’s, Boris almost single-handedly created from scratch a top-notch original Ukrainian television programming. And this time around with the purchase and world tour of his turn-of-the century collection of Odessan avant-garde, he has every intention of putting Ukraine into the global cultural limelight.
Boris Fuchsmann keeps referring to the Odessan Parisians as “Independents,” just as they used to call themselves, subtly conveying to his compatriots in the Ukraine a sense of pride that they can justly derive from an association with such a distinguished artistic coterie. But it is a kind of pride that is inevitably tempered by the fact that the artists in question were Jews and not Ukrainians and that their artistic debt and intellectual affinity was to the West and Russia much more than to their native land. Alas, adds Fuchsman, such are the complexities of national identity and cultural politics in Eastern Europe of today.
The collection of paintings of Odessan Parisians go on view as part of the Annual Russian Heritage Festival®, organized for the ninth consecutive year by the Russian American Foundation and its President, Ms. Marina Kovalyov, in cooperation with Daily News, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the City of New York .
The “Ukrainian Avant-Garde Art: The Odessan Parisians” exhibition will be on view at The National Arts Club at 15 Gramercy Park South, NYC, founded in 1898 by a New York Times arts and literary critic, Mr. Charles de Kay, as a meeting place for distinguished artists, their patrons, and general audience. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower were all Members, together with such distinguished painters as Robert Henri, Frederic Remington, William Merit Chase and Cecilia Black.
National Arts Club has an official museum status, and it is quite fitting that it is the venue for the “Ukrainian Avant-Garde Art: The Odessan Parisians” exhibition, particularly since the museum quality works reveal an entire stratum of culture that was considered lost forever.—