Cross Section of Vinnitsia in the Ukraine, 1939 1968
William Kurelek, Cross Section of Vinnitsia in the Ukraine, 1939, 1968
Ballpoint pen, ink, house paint, wood, oil, and graphite on Masonite, 57.5 x 76 cm
Winnipeg Art Gallery
This work was first displayed publicly at the University of Toronto’s Hart House in March 1969 as part of the sixteen-work Burning Barn series. The painting visualizes political atrocities committed by Soviet authorities throughout Ukraine during the 1930s. An indictment of Soviet oppression, the painting represents the artist’s more positive attempt to celebrate a “new collective conscience about [the] plight of his less fortunate fellow man abroad as well as at home” as a consequence of “the new ‘global village.’”
Through prison bars, the viewer witnesses the aftermath of the Vinnitsia Massacre, in which nearly ten thousand citizens, mostly ethnic Ukrainians, were executed by Stalin’s secret police during the Great Purge of 1937–38. Above the grave, people gather in a park cluttered with Communist propaganda. Cross Section is underpinned by Kurelek’s sensitivity to the complexity of Ukrainian history, a narrative that was often reduced to images of Cossacks and agrarian labourers.
The 1969 Burning Barn series was the artist’s third “socio-religious comment series,” after Experiments in Didactic Art, 1963, and Glory to Man in the Highest, 1966. Kurelek originally assigned the exhibition of the Burning Barn a more cryptic title, “Health.” He derived the final designation from an Edmonton art critic, who, in 1967, quoted the artist as stating that people today are “like children playing in a burning barn,” oblivious to the close proximity of their destruction.