Masterpieces from the Hermitage in Madrid
The best pieces from the Hermitage were exhibited in the hall of Madrid's Prado Museum. This exhibit is managed by the irreplaceable director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky. People are coming to the capital of Spain from all over the country to view these masterpieces. Visiting this exhibit, consisting of three million items (including a million coins and medals) with Piotrovsky, who doesn't hesitate to say that Damien Hirst is "fully fledge art", means an opportunity to truly immerse oneself in this artwork. The Hermitage truly can stand beside such world-famous temples of art at the Metropolitan, the Louvre, the National Gallery in London, or Prado. Piotrovsky has been running the Hermitage for twenty years now; that position was previously held by his father, who was the head of the world famous museum for no less than 26 year. One can truly say that he is an institution unto himself. He is also responsible for the exhibit in Madrid, which will now be extended to run until the beginning of April, at the end of Easter Week. 400,000 people have visited the exhibit since it opened on November 8th, 2011.
El Mundo: The main problem for you is probably deciding where and how to store a huge collection of pieces like the one that belongs to the Hermitage.
Mikhail Piotrovsky: Only about 7-10% of the total volume of the museum's holdings can actually be placed in the Hermitage. One might even say that practically all of the most valuable works of art are in our repositories. Yet we must also remember that a museum's job is not only to show its exhibition pieces, but also to study and restore them. Strange as it may seem, the solution lies in creating capacious depositories. We have two six-story buildings. Thanks to the fact that they will be open to visitors, up to 80% of our storage units will be accessible for viewing.
- Do you plan to acquire new pieces?
- Yes, we're currently working on expanding our collection of modern art.
- Does the Hermitage depend on government funding?
- 60% of our funding comes from the government. That's a separate budget line. 30-40% of our funding comes from ticket sales. There are also private charitable contributions made to support particular exhibits, although some exhibits are also financed by the government. If a museum is entirely dependent on the authorities, then it's probably done for.
- What role do you think major museums like the Hermitage will play in the 21st century?
- Museums are the custodians of human thought. Art serves as historical inspiration that we can use to solve many problems. I usually say that all beautiful solutions are correct. The Hermitage is located in a city that is a museum in its own right. Cities can learn a great deal from cultural institutions. We know how to maintain our prestige and think in the long term. A museum should not strive for quick profits. Many people hold that that educational level in Russia has fallen significantly. This makes the role of museums especially important.
- Do you strive to attract a large number of visitors? Is it possible for the average Russian to visit a cultural institution like the Hermitage?
- Well, we still need to significantly improve that side of our work. We have to attract visitors by offering them major discounts. We also have to change our social policy in that area.
- Speaking of social and political issues, all the signs suggest that Vladimir Putin will be the next President of Russia. Have you noticed any changes in the relationship between the government and the museum that occur when a new administration enters office? That often happens in Spain; when the political orientation of the government changes, so do the leading cultural institutions.
- I've known Medvedev for a long time, and Putin as well, since they're both from Saint Petersburg. To be honest, I don't expect that this change of presidents will reflect on the museum. What I would really like to say to him, such as it is, is that it isn't revolutions that we need, but stability. Museums have been known to support change, but only when it is moderate.
- You have experience working with the world's major galleries, and now everyone can point to the excellent mutual understanding you have established with Prado. One need only look at the exhibition of art from the Hermitage that is currently unfolding in Prado, like the corresponding exhibit from Prado's holdings that is currently operating in the Hermitage under the direction of Miguel Zugaza and has already been visited by about 630,000 people.
- Definitely, we're supporting our relationship with the Metropolitan Museum and the Louvre, but we have particularly close, perhaps even spiritual, ties with Prado. It may be that in both cases, it is due to the value of their exhibition pieces and the symbolism they contain. We can say with confidence that there is a whole family of museums, on a world-wide scale. It seems to me that our relationships are much better than those between enterprises or even governments [laughter].
- You have been at the helm of the Hermitage for 20 years now, and you always hear positive reports about your work on the international level.
- I was the first director of the Hermitage to be appointed by the Prime Minister. It was Yegor Gaidar at the time. My father held the position for 26 years. So I know the institution through and though, including all the unpleasant things that happened here during that time.
- What do you mean?
- Sometimes you suddenly notice that part of the building is in poor condition; or, let's say, six years ago we went through a very unpleasant episode; there was a theft, and the perpetrator turned out to be one of our employees. All of that was very sad.
- You said that you intended to improve the variety of contemporary art in your collection. Would you acquire the paintings of Damien Hirst, for example? What to you think about popular contemporary art; in Britain, for example?
- Contemporary art can only develop what has already been grounded in
tradition. We can look at a Hirst painting as we once looked at the paintings
of other innovative artists. I think we can say with confidence that we're
talking about fully fledged art. On the other hand, I've noticed that
the prices for art of that kind are often surprisingly high, sometimes
too much so.
From mutual exchange to success
For health reasons, Mikhail Piotrovsky could not be present at the ceremonial
opening of the Russian exhibit at Prado on November 8th of last year.
The Hermitage, he says "is a symbol of our country, just as Prado
is a symbol of Spain. The director of the Northern Capital's museum noted
that, when the Prado masterpieces were presented in the halls of the Hermitage
"it was quite the occasion; the museum was overflowing with people.
Prado is close to our hearts in Russia." In Piotrosvky's opinion,
the agreement signed between the two museums that made both exhibits possible
"was no accident; it was the fruit of many years of mutual exchange.
It is impossible to organize exhibits like this without a tradition of
cooperation. We now must decide how to develop our partnership further;
after all, we have never exchanged such a large quantity of famous pieces