"Museums in the era of clones"
– What is happening to the Hermitage, Mikhail Borisivich? Isnít the museum that interesting any more?
– Ratings are ratings, but visitors to the Hermitage have not decreased.
In 2010 Russiaís main museum had almost 2.5 million visitors, including
more than 800 thousand foreign visitors. Donít forget our exhibitions
in other museums in Russia and abroad, thatís almost another 1.5 million
visitors. For example, the
However, we are not chasing extremely high visitor numbers. The number of visitors that the museum can admit, despite the abundance of rooms, is limited. If the number of visitors increased greatly, then overcrowding would be inevitable. People would feel uncomfortable. So where would cultural heritage be? Would you want to admire Rembrandtís canvases if you were crushed in a crowd?.. At the same time the museum is expanding. In 2012 restoration of the eastern wing of the General Staff group of buildings on Palace Square should be complete, which will house new halls and exhibitions. Then we will be able to take even more visitors. Now Hermitage exhibitions can also be seen on the internet. More than 3.5 million people have visited the website www.hermitagemuseum.org in one year.
– Maybe itís because nothing changes in the museum? Life moves forward, but everything is the same in the halls.
– On the contrary, this is its advantage. The authenticity of the cultural masterpieces remains an eternal value in our fast moving world. Originals are becoming more valuable in an era of clones and virtuality. The Hermitage has of course changed, but it has mostly preserved itself, starting with its name. Hermitage means a place inhabited by a hermit, a place of solitude and peace. The museum tries to be just this. So that a person can come off the street and find peace and tranquillity, and can get away from the bustle of the street.
But it doesnít always happen. People today are always under constant nervous pressure. We have an entrance zone, with lots of people, where tickets are spinning, there are all kinds of con artists, ticket touts and where everything causes irritation. This can only be partly dealt with. When do visitors to the Hermitage start to relax? The main problem is to free them from the burden of their everyday worries, starting from the Egyptian Hall or going up the main staircase. Our sociological surveys show that most people manage to do so. They start to feel happy and good, even if they have come in during the peak of the tourist season.
– You once compared the Hermitage to a huge ship, which sails its own course without noticing storms, gales, currents...
– Yes, thatís what itís like. In essence the Hermitage has remained the same. Faces and clothes are different, but the goal is still the same, to heal the soul, teach good taste, an understanding of history and a feeling for real things. This becomes more important with time, because the museum is one of the few keepers of reality, as opposed to the television and internet. Here things talk to people, without middlemen.
The Rembrandt Brand
– You have said that elements of the theatre and show business are entering museum life in Russia on tiptoe. What about elsewhere? Is it possible to see, for example, in the foyer of the Louvre someone dressed as Van Gogh, Bosch or Rubens and pay to have your photo taken with them? Peter the Firsts walk around Palace Square with their empresses. How about letting them into the foyer of the Hermitage?
– Here we need to be tactful and careful. I think you can have a picture taken hugging someone dressed as Van Gogh by the museum entrance in the courtyard. But inside this is not allowed. In Holland, where the Rembrandt brand is wildly exploited, there are no dressed up Rembrandts in the museums. This is ethics and a degree of taste. It is said that museums in the west are more welcoming and open than in Russia. Yes, people are annoyed by our turnstiles at the ticket office, the crowds in the cloakroom, the queues for tickets, although it would seem that as a nation we are more used to standing in queues than others. This is what needs changing.
– It is clear what the Hermitage can be used for commercially. But what canít be done? Not for any reason, excuse or money? What can other museums do but you categorically refuse?
– You canít get married, use the museum halls for banquets, presentations, hang commercial adverts on scaffolding or, for example, rent a hall for a personal exhibition. This is the corporate ethics of a museum of the world.
– What about McDonaldís? Recently the Washington Woodrow Wilson Centre honoured you and the founder of McDonaldís Russia George Cohon. At the ceremony you said that everything was very nice...
– Yes, I was very sincere. I have always talked about cultural partnerships, "They give us McDonaldís, and we give them the Hermitage". This is really a pleasant and symbolic contrast. This is Russiaís cultural advance. We educate the world and they feed it.
– Arenít you against the Hermitage being on hamburgers?
– Why not? We just need to write on their wrappers the slogan: "Protect culture!", and use the money earned for restoring museums, for instance.
Art or life?
– You mentioned ticket touts. Where are security staff looking? What illegal acts do they stop? How is there illegal Hermitage trade?
– The police catch pickpockets. The museumís security service is not
an alternative to the police. Thereís nothing we can do with street hawkers,
just move them three metres away from the curb. We installed turnstiles
which can strictly control whether visitors have tickets and we started
demanding documents confirming the right to discounts. And what happens?
Somebody buys hundreds of tickets at 100 roubles and sells them
– You once said about this, "what do you expect? We live in a criminal city. There are criminals all around"... Did you say this in anger or did you really mean it?
– In anger, but there is a bit of truth in it. In our country criminal psychology does not play a small role. If shots are being fired all around, and we are always being told about night time city governors, it is obvious that this atmosphere must also be round the Hermitage. If touts are all around, then they will also work by the Hermitage. All we can do is try to keep them away from our walls. Or, also an option, give them a job. (Laughs) We find out what people are ready to pay more for and grab the initiative from the black marketeers.
– Do touts also circle round Moscow museums? At the Tretyakov for example?
– There are plenty of them at the Kremlin museums. Muscovites look on the internet and see commercial websites which sell tickets three times more than the usual price. And this isnít very low. Around the Tretyakov? Honestly, I donít know. Well, they donít have queues like at the Hermitage.
– You said. "There are pictures you could give up life for. To save Danae, for example". Is the value of a work of art greater than human life?
– Yes, and people take such suffering. For example: there is a battle and enemy bullets are coming from a church bell tower. What to do? There are two choices. The first is the American one: artillery knocks down the church. The second is Russian: soldiers attack to take the church without destroying it. Or, for example, that policeman who survived the attack on Danae. He took a risk and could have died, the criminal also threw acid on him. He couldnít save the painting, he threw himself and grabbed the criminal and, possibly, prevented worse happening, as the attacker also had a bomb... We can never insist on giving up life for art. But people do so because culture is not just for us, but also for future generations.