Old Dominion University's Barry Art Museum is now displaying two exhibitions that connect to the conflict in Ukraine and related tensions in Eastern Europe: a solo exhibition featuring works by Virginia Beach native Heather Beardsley and a long-term loan by Ukrainian-born artist Jules Olitski.
In an intimate pop-up exhibition titled "This Will Be for Thousands of Years," Heather Beardsley presents work from her series "Strange Plants." The series was inspired by a trip to Chernobyl, where she witnessed nature's reclamation of the abandoned and toxic site. Vintage photos and postcards from Eastern Europe are hand-embroidered with increasingly wild foliage, often forgoing or engulfing humans populating the images.
"There is an inherent tension in these pierced and stitched works on paper, especially as we consider whether any of the images from Ukraine still exist today, and what might be destroyed next," said Brett Day Windham, guest curator.
Additionally, the Barry Art Museum celebrates what would have been the 100th birthday of Ukrainian-born artist Jules Olitski (1922-2007) and the public debut of his 1989 painting "Love of Alexander." The painting was made in memory of Alexander Gorby, the son of Olitski's wife Kristina. This long-term loan was made possible by Ann Freedman of Freedman Art and by Olitski's stepdaughter, Natasha Gorby Cebek.
"Olitski created some of the most original and adventurous work of the modernist era. His life as an artist was unrelenting, creating beautifully seductive work in all forms, including sculpture," Freedman said. "In his last years, Olitski continued to push the boundaries with his uniquely colored compositions, rising to some of the most audacious abstractions of his career."
While Olitski wouldn't have defined his work as political, the experience of loss was woven into his life, and the investigation of absence in many of his paintings conveys a sense of yearning. "Love of Alexander" is more than 6 feet by 8 feet, a sprawling example of his famed "mitt paintings," which he produced while wearing large, furry gloves. The immense size, energy and volume of paint employed in this work speaks to the artist's lifelong pursuit of meaning through abstraction.
"The Barry Art Museum team developed these two exhibitions swiftly in a response to the war in Ukraine" said Charlotte Potter Kasic, executive director of the Barry Art Museum. "We were honored to be approached by Jules Olitski's family with the opportunity to share his monumental piece, which builds on the extensive works in our permanent collection. The Beardsley exhibit used the framework of Eastern European cities as an organizational factor to help audiences here visualize the spaces that are being affected by the war. We are honored to bring attention to this region and the artists who come from Ukraine or have been touched by the culture."