QUses of attribution are under constant review by art scholars, but rarely are they so topical or heated that institutional efforts are underway in the United States and Europe to reclassify art once described as Russian as Ukrainian.

In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has quietly changed the name of an 1899 painting by French impressionist Edgar Degas from Russian Dancer to Dancer in Ukrainian Costume.

The Met also now houses works by Ukrainian-born 19th-century painters Arkhip Kuindzhi and Ilya Repin. Artists were previously listed as Russian and are now classified as Ukrainian.

But seascape painter Ivan Avazovsky, who the Met also changed from Russian to Ukrainian, was suddenly relisted as Armenian on Thursday, following an outcry from New York’s Armenian community.

Armenian-American news outlet Asbarez objected to the painter’s recantation and noted that the Met admitted that Aivazovsky “was born to an Armenian family in Feodosia, a Crimean port on the Black Sea”.

Separately, an article in Hyperallergic described Met’s attribution changes as “misleading.” “We must not replace the ignorance shown in previous identities with a new kind of ignorance.” Author Vartan Matiossian wrote.

The backlash in New York follows moves last year at London’s National Gallery to change the name of another of Degas’s Dancers series from Russian Dancers to Ukrainian Dancers, as the subjects of Degas’ work, judging by their costumes, likely came from. What is now Ukraine, which was then part of the Russian Empire.

The National Gallery told the Guardian last year that it was “an opportune moment to update the painting’s title to better reflect the painting’s subject”.

Similar judgments have been made about other artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Ilya Kabakov, Sonia Delaunay-Terk and Louis Nevlson, who were born in modern Ukraine when it was under the control of the Russian Empire.

The moves are described as part of an effort to accurately attribute the contributions of Ukrainian artists to art history. But others have also condemned them. Last week, Mikhail Shvidkoy, the international culture envoy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, criticized the changes, describing them as politically motivated.

“This lame political gesture has defeated all legitimate cultural ideas,” Shvidkoy said In comments obtained by Newsweek. “The history of renaming world-famous paintings and the disconnection of great artists from the word Russia, began less than a year ago, when the process of eradicating Russian culture was gaining momentum.”

In a statement, Met director Max Hollen said: “The Met’s curators and experts are constantly researching and testing to determine the most appropriate and accurate way to catalog and present the objects in the collection.

“Regarding these works – which have been updated after research carried out in collaboration with experts in the field – the thinking of scholars is rapidly evolving, due to the increased awareness and attention to Ukrainian culture and history since the beginning of the Russian invasion in 2022,” he added.

There is also the question of whether Degas considered his subjects Russian or Ukrainian. By some accounts, the Russian specialty was given to him by his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who bought a series from the painter in 1906.

The Met has reportedly been considering the update since last summer to align with “efforts to continually research and examine the objects in its collection.” Degas had a Russian dancer was identified In a journal entry in 1899 as “Ladies in Russian Dress”.

“However, many scholars have demonstrated that the costumes are, in fact, traditional Ukrainian folk dress, although it has not been established that the dancers themselves were from Ukraine,” the website entry says.

Regarding the Degas paintings, Shvidkoy said that “cultural, bureaucratic London justified its decision based on its own ideas about beauty and the stance of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United Kingdom”, the outlet reported.

The controversy, Shvydkoy notes, can now be traced back to literature, with the African ancestry of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the Scottish ancestry of Mikhail Lermontov and the birthplace of German philosopher Immanuel Kant in Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, a once German city but later the Soviet Union and later the Soviet Union. indicating a part of Now of the Russian Federation.

At least some of the credit goes back to Oksana Semenyk, formerly a researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who was in the Kiev suburb of Bucha last March when it was invaded by Russian forces.

Semenyk launched a campaign to correct the attribution of Russian-listed artists in university collections considered Ukrainian. “I realized that many Ukrainian artists were in Russian collections. Of the 900 so-called Russian artists, 70 were Ukrainian and 18 from other countries,” she told CNN.

Semnik found a similar pattern in major American institutions. He complained and received non-responsive responses. “I got really mad after that,” she told the outlet. Semenyk, who has returned to Ukraine, was not immediately available for comment.

A person involved in the campaign told the Guardian that they had heard that some institutions were under pressure to retain Russian characteristics from the wives of aristocrats who sit on museum boards.

How far the campaign to reattribute Russian artists as Ukrainian can go is, in some cases, an issue better assigned to art scholarship than a wave of political gestures, as it has a long experience of reattributing works attributed to artists, or artists of certain nationalities. , the more you know.

“As with most rational decisions, making it more precise brings confusion,” notes Charles Stuckey, who has served as a curator at major US museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Museums change the title of their work all the time based on research,” Stuckey said. “The timing is questionable. Are they only doing this at this particular time?”

In order to change the Degas titles, he says, “someone had to show the Degas experts that they were not as accurate as they could have been over the years”.

At the same time, he points out, it’s unlikely that someone going through a work specializing in costumes from around 1900 could say “well, not exactly Russian, probably Ukrainian” and convince curators on that basis.

“It has to be backed up by some kind of rationale to change it. The field is already very familiar with situations like this due to the repetition of old master art. It complicates the research a bit but so what?”


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