Leonard Ursachi: Bunkers – Drawings and Sculpture

Text by Emily O’Leary, Assistant Curator
On view October 11, 2011–January 1, 2012

The drawings and small-scale sculpture from Leonard Ursachi’s Bunkers series address the complex relationship between identity, displacement and ideas of home. Inspired by the bunkers that mark the landscape of his native Romania, Ursachi—who now lives and works in Brooklyn—began using the form in 1998 to explore the contradictory feelings of fear and refuge that they suggest.

Bunker drawing JPG
Leonard Ursachi, Bunker, 2010, acrylic on rice paper, 30 x 19 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Many bunkers, relics from wars, lie abandoned throughout Europe, nestled into hillsides or built along the coasts. Having lost their purpose in peacetime, bunkers become hollow, capable of suggesting a multitude of meanings – historical, psychological and social. As fortified structures, bunkers are capable of withstanding heavy damage and protecting those inside, but they also allow their inhabitants to act on the offensive. They serve as practical structures, while functioning as emblems of violence. As Paul Virilio wrote in his book, Bunker Archeology (Princeton Architectural Press, 1994), describing his first encounter in 1958 with the Atlantic Wall – a series of bunkers built along the European coast during World War II by the Third Reich to ward off an Allied attack: “The object no longer made the same sense, though there was still protection here.”

According to Ursachi, “I grew up in a dictatorship, from which I defected. In my art, I often use architectural references as metaphors for systems that enclose and exclude, protect and reject. Every border has its bunkers – physical or psychological – reminding us of where we belong.” His Bunkers series includes outdoor sculptures, drawings and maquettes. The outdoor sculptures are often site-specific. They range from a version of Hiding Place (2007, The Hebrew Home Art Collection) that was created as a public art project for Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to another installed beside a 15th-century stone fortress in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains.

Hiding Place sculpture JPG
Leonard Ursachi, Hiding Place, 2007, willow branches and glass mirrors, 8 x 8 feet. Gift of the artist, The Art Collection at The Hebrew Home at Riverdale.

Hiding Place is constructed out of willow branches, a material that Ursachi describes as being “traditionally used to build shelters and enclosures in rural societies.” The use of playful materials such as willow branches, feathers and white tiles also contradicts the militancy inherent in the bunker form.

There is no way to enter Hiding Place, though it is structurally sound and strong enough to weather outdoor conditions in different climates. Its several “windows” are mirrors that reflect the external world. They exclude the viewer from entering the structure, while at the same time creating an open space into which ideas may be projected and sheltered. The Bunkers series transforms a traditionally belligerent architectural symbol of war into a new object capable of evoking a wide spectrum of emotions.

Ursachi was born in Vaslui, Romania, and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He studied art history and archeology at the Sorbonne in Paris before emigrating to the United States. He has been the recipient of numerous grants, including from the Brooklyn Arts Council, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the City of Vaslui. His work has been shown at such venues as the National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC) (Bucharest, Romania), Piatra Neamt Museum (Tirgu Neamt, Romania), and the Bronx River Art Center, and in numerous public locations including Duarte Square in downtown Manhattan and Red Hook Pier, Prospect Park, and Fulton Ferry State Park, all in Brooklyn.

Hebrew Home 14
Exhibition installation view

As a member of the American Alliance of Museums, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale by RiverSpring Health is committed to publicly exhibiting its art collection  throughout its 32-acre campus including Derfner Judaica Museum and a sculpture garden overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection provide educational and cultural programming for residents of the Hebrew Home, their families and the general public from throughout New York City, its surrounding suburbs and visitors from elsewhere. RiverSpring Health is a nonprofit, non-sectarian geriatric organization serving more than 12,000 older adults in greater New York through its resources and community service programs. Museum hours: Sunday–Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Art Collection and grounds open daily, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Call 718.581.1596 for holiday hours and to schedule group tours or for further information, visit our website at http://www.riverspringhealth.org/art

This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Derfner Judaica Museum Logo PNG
5901 Palisade Avenue
Riverdale, New York 10471
Tel. 718.581.1596