The Hermitage has gone out into the world. Russia's
main museum is opening branches abroad
This year the Hermitage will open its center in Italy, located in the central province of Emilia Romagna. Director of the State Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky speaks about this project and how the new center will differ from the already existing "representative offices" of the museum.
- This will be the fifth representation of the museum outside Petersburg, following London, Las Vegas, Amsterdam and Kazan. Why exactly did you choose Ferrara?
- We received many offers - from Turin, Venice, Palermo, Verona, Mantua and Ferrara. The representational and exhibition part of this center will be housed in a building that is considered the symbol of the city: the palace of the family of the dukes d'Este, who ruled there from the 13th to 16th centuries. The court of the dukes d'Este was a meeting place of the poets Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso, as well as of the artists who created the Ferrara school of painting, Mantegna and Piero della Francesca. What do we need? The objective is to build a center where art historians, initially from the Hermitage and then from other museums as well, can come and work on their research for lengthy periods in collaboration with their Italian colleagues. Ferrara seemed to us to be readier than others to solve these tasks. Moreover, it is geographically close to the major university centers, and our researchers have occasion to travel through the whole country. Here there is a splendid castle and it bears mention that some of its sculptures have, since the 19th century, been held in the Hermitage collection. We recently took them back to Ferrara for exhibition.
- What is the objective of creating affiliates - is it commercial or educational?
- We don't have affiliates or subsidiaries in the legal sense of the term. What we have is Hermitage exhibition centers outside Petersburg. They function as independent legal entities and are linked to the Hermitage by certain agreements that have been confirmed by Russia's Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography. Obviously, our centers bear the name "Hermitage." We engage in cultural and educational activities, we arrange exhibitions, deliver lectures and carry on joint research work. The quality of this work is identical, whether we are speaking about London or Kazan. And the level of requirements for the organizers of our center, from insurance and ensuring the security of exhibit items to respecting climatic conditions in which they are held, are the same for London and for Kazan. Each center represents an important means of making our collection accessible to the public. We send out exhibit items which are not on permanent display in our museum but are coming from the reserve storerooms. There is also an economic aspect to this. We get part of the receipts earned by our centers. In Amsterdam, this is one Euro from each visitor ticket sold; in London, it is one pound sterling; and in Las Vegas, it is compensation from the sponsor who is subsidizing one or another exhibition.
- London was the first Hermitage center abroad, opening back in the year 2000. Has its popularity held up?
- Judging by the press, our exhibitions continue to be among those the public finds most interesting. The Hermitage Rooms in London's Somerset House are a joint project with the Courtauld Institute, one of the most famous institutions in the world for research and teaching art history. There is a London Foundation for the Development of the Hermitage, a public organization which provides material support to keep our center going. Each exhibition has both English and Russian curators. As you know, we started with our exhibition on Catherine the Great, followed by The Path to Byzantium, which showed a very serious cross-section of research at the Hermitage, not just the collection. We also exhibited in London our show on Caspar David Friedrich and German Romanticism, displaying an artist who is totally absent in England. For British scholars and the general public, it was very important to see his paintings. Moreover, there is a system of grants enabling Hermitage staff to come to London for two months to work on their research topics.
- The Amsterdam center of the Hermitage opened in 2004. You called it an embassy, having in mind the broad field of its planned activities. Have these plans been achieved?
- There is a foundation called the Hermitage-Amsterdam and the Nieuwe Kerk exhibition center, with whom we have collaborated for a long time. Now we are running our center jointly. Once a year our exhibitions come to the center. We recently finished the show entitled Oriental Filigree and now an exhibition has opened dedicated to the collections of Russian collectors - Tatishchev, Yusupov, Gorchakov and Kushelev-Bezborodko. In Amsterdam, the accent is on educational activities. There are children's courses following a curriculum agreed with the Hermitage and created with our participation. They are based on our exhibitions.
- The press and the museum community reacted in a stormy manner when the Hermitage opened its representation in Las Vegas in 2001.
- It was something of a shock that we opened in the gambling capital, that an oasis of real art of the highest class appeared in a city of Post-Modernist culture. Now exhibitions of Classical art are brought there from museums of various countries. In this way the Hermitage opened a window on Europe for Las Vegas. In recent years even the buildings of hotels there started to be built differently - in the European style. The Hermitage-Guggenheim museum is responsible for all the logistics. We put on exhibitions about the history of the arts and the history of collecting. These are all joint exhibitions involving the Hermitage, the Guggenheim Museum and Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. Other museums also put on shows in our premises. For example, the Kremlin Museums have exhibited in our halls. The interiors of our center were designed by the great architect Rem Koolhaas. This is a piece of the Classical amidst kitsch.
- And how are things going in Kazan, where the Hermitage center in the Kazan Kremlin Museum-Preserve opened last year, during the 1000th anniversary celebrations of the capital of Tatarstan?
- It opened with the exhibition entitled Treasures of the Golden Horde, which received exhibit items on loan from various museums around Russia. Then we took there our exhibition The Art of the Embroiderer. The next exhibition will be dedicated to horses: Half a Kingdom for a Horse. We have computer classes there which operate on the basis of the Virtual Hermitage educational programs. There are permanent lecture series, both for the general public and for university students. We have plans for cooperation with the departments of museum management in Tatarstan institutions of higher learning. The center enjoys the patronage of the President of Tatarstan. Kazan pays all the expenses, but we do not receive any money from the activities of our representation there.
- Who else wants to take responsibility for running Hermitage centers?
- Portugal, Japan and Lithuania. However, it is still too early to speak about these initiatives.