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Press release

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Welcomes First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska

A man and woman in suits stand on the steps of a large building with a banner saying "The Met" above them

First Lady Zelenska was greeted by Director and CEO Max Hollein and briefed on various initiatives The Met has undertaken in support of Ukrainian culture, including an overview of a new social media series that will feature various Ukrainian voices

(New York, September 22, 2023)—The Metropolitan Museum of Art this week welcomed First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska for a meeting and tour of the galleries. During the visit, First Lady Zelenska met with Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director and CEO, and heard updates from staff on efforts the Museum has undertaken in support of Ukrainian culture.  

Met staff shared an overview of upcoming digital and social media initiatives that will feature various Ukrainian voices reflecting on works in the Museum’s collection, inspired by First Lady Zelenska’s advocacy for the celebration of the Ukrainian language and culture. These initiatives will launch this fall with a selection of works from across the Museum’s collection. 

 “The Met is deeply honored to welcome First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska to New York and to our Museum,” said Max Hollein. “Art and Museums offer us spaces to celebrate the importance and meaning of the world’s cultural heritage, and we are proud to work together with the First Lady to find ways to celebrate Ukrainian language and culture.”

First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska commented, “We continue an important project for Ukraine: Ukrainian-language audio-tours at world museums. Almost 70 prominent institutions in 43 countries have already joined this effort. Thus, I sincerely thank you for “The Met Speaks Ukrainian” initiative. The launch of audio comments in Ukrainian at one of the best world museums is an act of solidarity, it is a position that we truly appreciate. And this is not just about a tourist option, although it is also very important. When The Metropolitan Museum of Art speaks Ukrainian it immediately reinforces the message the Ukrainian is a language of culture and humanity. The language of people who have truth on their side.”  

The visit concluded with a tour of the Museum’s Galleries for 19th- and Early 20th-Century European Paintings and Sculpture, with a Met curator offering brief remarks on the painting Red Sunset (1905-8) by Arkhip Kuindzhi, which The Met recently re-catalogued to reflect the artist’s Ukrainian nationality.  The Met displayed Kuindzhi's painting in spring 2022, and issued a statement from Met leadership denouncing the violence in Ukraine following the destruction of the Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol, Ukraine, in a Russian airstrike. The Museum also renamed Edgar Degas's Russian Dancer to Dancer in Ukrainian Dress and re-catalogued artist Ilia Repin and Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky to more accurately represent their Ukrainian backgrounds. 

The First Lady Zelenska also heard from Met staff about how, in the early days of the conflict, The Met’s Textile Conservation department recorded videos in Ukrainian on safeguarding works of art that were sent to museum colleagues in Lviv.  In addition, the Museum donated funds to International Council of Museums (ICOM) Poland and the Committee for Ukrainian Museums via the Paweł Włodkiewicz Institute who were assisting Ukrainian refugee museum workers in Poland as well as providing some equipment to Ukrainian museums. The Museum also briefed the First Lady on recent museum events in support of Ukraine, including a Concert for Ukraine that celebrated the country’s diverse musical cultures with performances by world-renowned Ukrainian American artists and artists with Ukrainian roots. All ticket proceeds from this event were donated to the Heritage Emergency Response Initiative, which supports Ukrainian museum workers and arts institutions working to safeguard and preserve Ukrainian culture. The Museum also recently hosted a tour for Ukrainian journalists as part of the Ukrainian Institute of America's conference on journalism, and partnered with the Smithsonian Rescue Initiative to train Civil Affairs soldiers on the military’s responsibilities under the Hague Convention, using Ukraine as a case study.


September 22, 2023

Image credit: Courtesy of the Office of the First Lady of Ukraine


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