Interview with the newspaper
2 April 2004
-Mikhail Borisovich, can one consider the Konstantinovsky Palace to
be a branch of the Hermitage de jure?
- Yes and no. The fact is that the premises are under the operational
control of the “Palace of Congresses” administration and of the Administration
of Presidential Affairs. Operational control means that full responsibility
for these premises is borne by them. But the museum part, which is a constituent
element of the Konstantinovsky Palace, is being ‘filled out’ by us, the
Hermitage. We are busy with the interior decoration of the palace as a
whole. Essentially what you see here is a novel experiment which has nothing
like it in Russia: a palace which is being used for educational and for
political functions, and also a truly museum part – which is us. Don’t
forget that in addition to VIP’s, the Palace will be visited by ordinary
people, by those who come here on guided tours. Now permission has even
been given to show visitors the office of the head of state, meaning on
those days when there are official functions at the state level.
-As far as I know, relations between the Hermitage and the Palace
of Congresses once were somewhat strained: it had to do partly with display
items outside the museum area of the palace. There were some who even
believed that genuine Hermitage works of art would be permanently kept
outside the museum area.
- I would put it this way: a misunderstanding arose between us about the
climate…At present there are no longer any points of contention. We monitor
the building for humidity, temperature, air quality and other parameters.
This is a very flexible system. After all the building is absolutely new,
not even a year old. Understandably the parameters I have just mentioned
are especially important for the museum area and we watch them closely.
As regards genuine items and copies: there will be no Hermitage originals
outside the museum area. We have developed a special program for preparing
copies of Hermitage objects for the Congress area of the Konstantinovsky
Palace. And it is these copies which will find a home in the Konstantinovsky
Palace. Moreover, the copies on display will be selected and presented
in such a manner as to facilitate a narrative about their ‘prototypes’,
‘tying them in’, so to say, with the history of Russia. The palace itself
will put together its own collection – buying things and accepting gifts.
- What will you show in the museum area that you are calling a branch
of the Hermitage?
- We have already opened an exhibition in the Konstantinovsky Palace called
“State Symbolism of Russia.” There is also a permanent display of the
“Museum of Heraldry,” which covers the history and the origins of coats
of arms as devices symbolizing an individual, a community, and the state.
We have included in this antique vases, coins from Ancient Greece, Rome
and Byzantium. There are splendid items from numismatics and also from
the decorative and applied arts. For example, there is a wall covering
with the coat of arms of Cardinal Richelieu. We also show the coats of
arms of very well known Russian princely families – the Sheremetievs,
Stroganovs, Yusupovs. Generally we try to show in the Konstantinovsky
Palace what people are not likely to see in the Hermitage: after all a
visitor, especially if he is an important statesman, will as a rule follow
a set itinerary and so he never will get to the numismatic displays since
there is just not enough time. And in the Konstantinovsky Palace we show
orders and coins as well as other things which are extremely interesting
but are outside the usual tour route at the Hermitage. For example, we
have whole halls devoted to orders and awards. Not only orders established
by Peter the Great but even decorations given out by the White armies
during the Civil War.
- What about contemporary political life in Russia and the new signs
and symbols: will they be shown?
- We are thinking of displaying the Presidential chain which the head
of state puts on for his inauguration. I hope there will also be other
things relating to big names and significant events in modern history…
And also not so modern history: we are proposing to bring here the imperial
crowns from the Kremlin Treasure Rooms.
- These crowns left Petrograd in 1918 and never returned to the Hermitage.
Aren’t some people afraid that this might be interpreted as an attempt
by the Hermitage to take back its property?
- Well, when we bring over, for example, the “Alba Madonna” from
Washington’s National Gallery no one says that we want it returned here.
And generally what we are talking about is property of the state. (He
-Turning aside for a moment from the Konstantinovsky Palace, I understand
the Hermitage is planning an exhibition devoted to the history of fashion.
The Hermitage now is gravitating towards modern art, but it seems to me
that fashion has not entered into its sphere of interests, or am I wrong?
- Why do you say it never entered our interests? We have organized shows
devoted to the history of clothing. Now in 2005 we will have a joint project
with Paris’s Museum of Fashion. This idea was proposed by the magazine
“Elle” and it is an experiment: clothing from the Hermitage collection
will be displayed and around it will be works of fashion designers – the
arbiters of fashion from 1917 right up to our days. One candidate for
the role of curator of the exhibition is Karl Lagerfeld. Though it is
likely the exhibition will be very academic.
- The Hermitage finished its processing of statistical data about
visitors who come here during the co-called free-of-charge day. After
all, now on one Thursday a month your museum has become generally accessible.
What are the results?
- If on a usual day we get three thousand visitors, then on the day when
entrance is free we get four and a half thousand. Seventy percent of them
are Petersburgers. And it is a curious fact that three quarters of these
Petersburgers are women. Among the visitors who are not coming from Petersburg,
half are men and half are women. We asked visitors a question: is our
subsidized entrance price high? (Those enjoying subsidized or “privileged”
entrance in the parlance of the Hermitage are all citizens of Russia,
for whom the entrance is set at 100 rubles, also school children and students
at institutions of higher learning, who have free entrance on all days
– “ Izvestia”). And the majority answered that this price is absolutely
The full text of the interview may be found on the website of the newspaper