When Lviv became a city of angels
The revival of angels. An exhibition curated by Pavlo Gudimov. Lviv: June 20th – September 22, 2019.
For three months Lviv residents and interested guests had the opportunity to observe the deeply thoughtful and absorbing ambience of interplay between centuries-old cultures and traditions united by a familiar, ethereal creature – the angel. The exhibition was widely praised and warmly welcomed by the audience, as the enormous three-year undertaking was put into effect. The “Angels” exhibition was carried out by the its curator Pavlo Gudimov and his skilled research team of professional art researchers, culturologists, designers and managers. The exhibition was conducted by the Ya Gallery Art Center together with the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery; all this was made possible through co-operation with over 40 cultural institutions across Ukraine.
Despite existing for millennia, the idea of angels continues to be debated within modern society. Throughout history and in nearly every culture, angels have been commonly held and depicted as messengers and protectors which serve as intermediaries between God and humankind. Most are benevolent, but according to some faiths, a few have also contributed to the downfall of humanity. There are also many ranks and types of angels mentioned in lore – seraphims, cherubims, thrones, dominions, virtues and powers, principalities, archangels and many others – but in general angel symbolism provides comfort, inspires belief and promotes the search for higher meaning and understanding.
Angels have been portrayed in various styles of art since ancient times and still capture the contemporary imagination. The “Angels” exhibition recently held in Lviv illustrates this fact. The aim of the project was to represent large divisions throughout the history of angelic transformation. Over 400 exhibits from museums and private collections were gathered into 23 halls of the Lozynsky Palace and Pinsel Museum and included the works of the most outstanding painters and sculptors of miscellaneous periods: Dürer, Schongauer, Rembrandt, Boucher, Vrubel, Malczewski, Klinger, Kulchytska, Primachenko, Novakovskyi to Chagall, Kabakov, Ravsky, Kostyrko, Silvashi and Yaloza. The exhibition has become a remarkable platform of different styles from engravings, temple murals, sculpture and painting to books, cinema and mass culture. Also a large amount of masterpieces were transferred from the Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Art, which preserves the most significant and systematic collection of classical foreign art in Ukraine. The vast amount of visual information led to the creation of five fundamental sections in order to segregate and rationalise the plethora of diverse themes: “Winged”, “Stories”, “Archangels and Hierarchies”, “Culture”, and “Angels and people”.
It is worth noting that the creative curator also transformed the exhibition space by building 400 square metres of additional walls in the gallery, purchasing a customised lighting system which was completely swapped for the entire exposition. A variety of front, side and top lighting successfully emphasised the accents, and the bright blue and yellow walls created an intimate, absorbing background for perceiving the chef-d’oeuvre. In parallel with the exhibition, a number of lectures by cultural and artistic experts were organised that were devoted to a particular piece of work or to specific artistic periods. Gudimov also gave special guided tours around the exhibition. The organisers provided a special programme for children which included an excursion in the form of a quest and an event called “Angel Formation”, where everyone, despite their age, could create an angel using diverse techniques and materials. The Lychakiv Cemetery also became part of the exhibition, which included several lectures about local angels.
The main exhibition consisted of two storeys, and in almost every hall visitors could find a combination of ancient and contemporary pieces. Nevertheless the second storey formed a stronger connection with the contemporary period. It was opened by Albina Yaloza’s installations, which embody the original interoperations in the structure of angels and the archangel system. Corresponding to the artist’s perspective, the kingdom of angels has strict hierarchies, very similar to human societies. In her large-scale 3D installation, the highest celestial power is revealed by an above spot of light, and plastic transparent wings of various shapes and colours slowly descend in hierarchical order. Visitors could therefore observe an aesthetically pleasing and emotionally charged visualisation; no wonder it became a favourite with many visitors.
Sights and sounds
Next, was the Colour and Sound Hall, in which Gudimov admits: “Here we are talking about the colour of the angels themselves. Jean Fouquet in the 15th century showed angels in vivid colours of blue and red. In the canonical system, colour is of great importance … But also, what do angels sound like? I asked Svyatoslav Lunyov to make an interpretation for the exhibition that would illustrate angelic sound. Thus, he created the so-called Pink Noise.”
The exhibition, in fact, includes two new works by Lunyov – an experimental modern Ukrainian composer. There was a composition at the Pinzel Museum, written on the basis of medieval choral music, and a multi-channel composition at the Lozynsky Palace, which was installed in the halls so that the enfilade would work acoustically. “In our project, music is a separate, full-fledged exhibit that harmoniously co-exists in one space with the works of art, augmenting reality,” says one of the organisers of exhibit. Another installation, titled “Wings”. by Tiberiy Silvashi (a modern Ukrainian artist) combines the poetic tunes of Lunyov and the offbeat imagination of the artist himself, inasmuch as the wings represent two huge gold-plated rectangles which are floating in air.
A closer look at the whole historical range of angelic themes, however, reveals a number of gaps and shortcomings which is a very interesting phenomenon, insofar as spectators got an opportunity to invoke their own imagination. Moreover, the curator of “Angels” emphasises, in an interview with Ukrainian media, that not all parts of angel differentiations have a literary base: “There were a few topics which we couldn’t arrange, for instance, the theme of winged saints (The Winged St. John the Baptist, Winged Christ) or guardian angels. Therefore you touch something you don’t even have the faintest idea of what it is. Furthermore, Diana Klochko, who has written a number of articles in this project, aptly named her material ‘About the angels made up by artists’. Similarly, the main part of the exhibition called ‘Culture’ reveals the path of the formation of the image of the angel itself and how it was exploited throughout the ages”.
The final section of the exhibition demonstrates the modern interaction between society and angels. Having said that, here a question should be posed: Are angels such an enduring phenomenon that we should address them again? Obviously, the concept of angels is not restricted to religion, but it also has a strong presence in the secular world. Today, angels are everywhere in popular songs, musicals and novels. Statues of angels can be found in gardens. Tiny angelic figurines appear on jewellery and clothing. In other words, the depiction of angels always mirrors the political and religious changes in people’s mind.
Tracing back to the symbolic roots of angels, one sees an outpouring of disobedience. However, after some time the initial angelic idea transformed and led to its simplification as a more decorative form of art (for example, Renaissance and Baroque putti). What is more, contemporary popular culture cannot be imagined without comics. Superheroes and messengers of heaven are a part of our everyday entertainment. We find angels in stories and films – Faust, Wings of Desire, Angel-A or X-Men. The last title illustrates the radical changing image of angels to meet the demands of consumer society.
The Lviv exhibition explores it all – from traditional representations of the guardian angel, the shocking Last Judgment through fantastic Angelorium, to the Kaleidoscope of thematic artefacts in the last hall of the exhibition, where the project changes format to that of an interactive game of comparison and investigation. As an artist, I personally had an enormous amount of satisfaction and a fresh appreciation of angelic issues during my visit of the exhibition space. There was something divine about the whole atmosphere of the event, as if people, again, started to believe in fairytales. Thanks to the heavy promotion on the radio, TV and social media the “Angels” made a big sensation as a high-level cultural phenomenon, something that was much needed for the community in Lviv.
Nataliya Parshchyk is a student of art at the Lviv Academy of Art.