Like many of the other artists from L’viv whom the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art has brought to Chicago, the Yarychs are more interested in using rather than defying their cultural legacy. The quiet and mysterious paintings of Svitlana Yarych (born 1960) are closer to Byzantine icons than to romantic realism or anything else that’s come out of Western Europe in the last two centuries. But the sweet, young, ghostly faces that emerge from her upbeat, colorful patterns belong in the home rather than the church. With her emphasis on enjoyable local color, Svitlana, a professor in the Department of Clothing Design at the L’viv Academy of the Arts, might even be considered more of a fabric designer than a painter.
Meanwhile, her husband, Vasyl (born 1951), was obviously trained by the Soviet academy to achieve didactic monumentality rather than naturalism or individual self-expression. But he has carried that formalist ability to make things look large and important over into the intimate world of domestic life, and the outstanding work in this exhibition is his series of “conversations” that feature half-naked, lanky young couples entwined in each others’ limbs and staring into each others’ eyeless faces. These couples are sexy, but it is the sex between lifelong companions. There’s a gentle, loving, dreamy, domesticity in all their work, including the traditional mythic themes that Vasyl has approached. Europa sits atop a very tame bull; lithe Judith has beheaded hapless Holofernes with a sword the size of a kitchen knife; Adam is back-to-back with Eve and both of them are far too docile to deserve divine punishment.
The Yarychs enhance the surrounding space instead of assaulting or rejecting it. They present a sweet, beautiful and conventional world that humanity needs but always seems to be destroying, especially in twentieth-century L’viv where a third of the population (the Jews) were murdered by the Nazis and then sixty percent of those left (the Poles) were deported by the Soviets. With such a history, who wouldn’t be longing for peace and harmony? By themselves, Svitlana’s paintings might be dismissed as boutique decorative. But the masses, contours and dramatic narratives of Vasyl’s sculpture make everything else in the room feel important. (Chris Miller)
Through January 30 at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 West Chicago.