Erosion: Works by Leonard Ursachi

On view July 15–January 6, 2019 in the Derfner Judaica Museum
Read the exhibition catalogue online
Leonard Ursachi, What a Wonderful World, 2018, carved Styrofoam covered with Styrocrete, pigments, non-toxic tar paint and 23-karat gold leaf, mounted on painted steel base, 9 feet high (with base) x 4 feet diameter. Courtesy of the artist.

In this exhibition featuring an outdoor sculpture, installation work, and related maquettes and drawings, Leonard Ursachi addresses themes of environmental and social crises caused by manmade events and reflects on how the destruction of natural resources is intimately interconnected with the effacement of human history and culture.

Central to the show will be a new outdoor sculpture created for the exhibition—an iteration of Ursachi’s What a Wonderful World series. The large-scale work is on view in the sculpture garden on the Hebrew Home’s majestic 32-acre property overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. Carved in Styrofoam and covered in Styrocrete, pigments, non-toxic tar paint and 23-karat gold leaf, What a Wonderful World (2018) touches on the inextricable link between profitability and the destruction of the environment. The expanses of 23-karat gold leaf applied to the roughly textured, “tarred” oceans reference a global, often wealth-driven disregard for the impact of environmental choices. The continents, on the other hand, appear vast and devoid of life, signifying a stripping away of natural resources. Still, Ursachi’s vision implies hope: the sculpture’s egg shape may be read as the enduring, if fragile, potential for life. Inside the Museum will be a complementary display of drawings as well as maquettes in a variety of materials, including 23-karat gold, cast urethane resin, Styrofoam, concrete, cast aluminum and marble.

Also included in the exhibition is Ursachi’s installation Rise and Shine (2010), a multi-media work that addresses the disappearance of the Romanian island of Ada Kaleh, which was submerged in the Danube River in 1970 by Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in order to build a hydroelectric plant.

Leonard Ursachi, What a Wonderful World, 2018, pigment, charcoal on rice paper, 20 ½ x 15 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Inside an aquarium-like receptacle, a model of the island cast from translucent urethane resin is lit from below, alternately drowned and resuscitated as water continuously rises and falls. Ursachi based the island’s form on Ada Kaleh, the rich history of which dates back at least four centuries, having been annexed at various times by the Habsburgs, Serbs and Ottomans. Under Communist Romania, Ada Kaleh was home to a vibrant Muslim community and such historic structures as the Ada Kaleh mosque (built in 1903 on the site of a former monastery), catacombs and bazaar. The island was a popular vacation destination during the Communist period, when Romania’s heavily-guarded and insular borders prevented its own citizens from leaving the country. Ursachi visited Ada Kaleh with his family in 1968, returning with the only souvenir available at the time—an officially stamped, government-issued postcard. A reproduction of this postcard and a photograph of the artist and his brother visiting Ada Kaleh as children are on view with Rise and Shine.

Rise and Shine addresses the disastrous effect such industrial projects have on human culture, displacing entire populations and literally washing away layers of history. The rise and fall of the water, which submerges and reveals the resin island, both engages environmental themes and reflects the unchecked destruction that can occur under tyranny. Ceaușescu’s rule was one of the most brutal in the Eastern Bloc, with his secret police force routinely torturing and imprisoning suspected dissenters and political enemies. Ursachi was arrested for attempting to escape Romania by swimming across the Danube—near the spot where Ada Kaleh once stood—to reach Yugoslavia in 1978. His second attempt to defect, in 1980, was successful, and he was granted political asylum in France where he spent five years. He came to the United States via Canada and settled in New York in 1987.

Leonard Ursachi, Rise and Shine, 2010, acrylic container, water, light, pumps, rusted steel base, cast resin, 60 x 72 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

According to Ursachi: “In contrast to the Communist grayness that muffled the rest of Romania, Ada Kaleh was an explosion of color and noise, and home to an active Muslim community that had settled there during the Ottoman Empire.”

This exhibition is mounted in conjunction with Wave Hill’s Ecological Consciousness: Artist as Instigator—a kind of laboratory setting for showcasing artist-led projects addressing ecological issues across New York City. A special collaborative program between Wave Hill and Derfner Judaica Museum entitled Neighbors Engaging the Environment will take place on August 5, 2018, between 1:30–4 p.m. Wave Hill Senior Curator Jennifer McGregor will give an informal tour of Wave Hill’s exhibition and Emily O’Leary, Associate Curator, will guide visitors through Erosion: Works by Leonard Ursachi. Shuttle service will depart from Wave Hill. The tour is included with general admission to the garden’s grounds. For more information, call 718.549.3200.

The artist (left) and his brother, Calin, on a family vacation to Ada Kaleh, 1968. Courtesy of the artist.

About the Artist
Leonard Ursachi is a Romanian-born artist. He grew up under a dictatorship from which he defected and spent years border-hopping before settling in New York. His work reflects our contemporary world of porous borders, vulnerable shelters, and mutating identities. His sculptures and installations use architectural references as tropes for systems that enclose and exclude, protect and reject. Ursachi’s work is often site-specific, with the physical, historical and cultural aspects of the site informing the artist’s concept and use of materials.

About Hebrew Home at Riverdale
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 the Derfner Judaica Museum and a sculpture garden overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. The Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection provides 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 18,000 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.

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