View from the Hermitage. Without any Noise and Bustle
When I had only started to work as the director of the museum everyone liked that I instantly made most of the decisions. There was a time like that. But the awareness that the speed does not characterize the right way of doing business, the behaviour of a manager and the correct management, comes with the experience. There are things that demand time, the necessity to train oneself and the public opinion to something without any bustle.
We scrambled out of various critical situations and we got the opportunity to approach some important things with responsibility, to work with consideration and gradually.
The Hermitage does not bustle. Recently we have published a press release about the research of the influence of noise and vibration on works of art. At the beginning we were looking for the methods of the painting surface observation. The methods to do so have been found. The Hermitage is working closely with the Grabar’s institute. This is a modern project launched on our initiative. It is too soon to say that all the issues concerning the sound level at the Palace Square are solved. Nothing has been decided yet. I repeat that we are gradually convincing everyone that this is a serious problem.
The research will continue and the materials will be presented to the press
and the legislative bodies. There are no clear criteria of the sound
influence, there are no
As an example I would like to mention a problem of painting of the facades of the historic buildings. The Hermitage held a conference on the topic. We presented the architectural research about the way the facades of the Winter Palace were painted at different times. Their original colour was ochreous that changed its shades in the course of time. Under Alexander I the colour was pearl white ochreous, under Alexander III it was red ochreous. It is a whole colour gamma. After the war the facades got to be green unexpectedly and without any historical reason. We should think what to do next. But in order to make the right decision it should be repeatedly discussed with the people who are interested in that and who know the problem. Yet the professionals should make the final decision amid the public opinion. It should not be influenced or decided by the public it should be made amid the public discussion. I believe that this is the right phrasing.
The ideas that are often begotten in the discussions should get accustomed to. Each new idea seems to be revolutionary. Sometimes it is said that if something is built then people get used to it eventually; this has happened more than once. Probably, if something is accustomed to in the course of the discussion then it won’t be necessary to build something that is impossible to get accustomed to.
I will never get accustomed to the Book House where on top of the roof the American eagle is overlooking the Kazan Cathedral. I would never get accustomed to the Cathedral of the Resurrection on the Spilt Blood. Of course, it is a historic monument, the monument to the murdered Emperor and it can not be demolished. But this monument should be different. It blocked a tremendous view of the canal and brought the Moscow style an alien to our city. It became one of the symbols of St. Petersburg, its image is reproduced on the postcards, calendars... This annoys me. A totally different style fits Alexander II.
I believe that we are living a rather stable life so we can discuss many things calmly and without any hysteric and retort against the things that upset the balance in the image of St. Petersburg.
This week on the initiative of the Hermitage and the World Wide Club of Petersburgers the seminar and the ‘round table’ discussion are taking place, their topic is St. Petersburg - the Monuments of UNESCO and the Strategy of Preservation of the Cultural Heritage. How to Combine the Two Documents. The document on the basis of which our city was included in the World Heritage List is amidst numerous disputes. Everybody knows that the list was made a long time ago in haste and a lot of things in were described vaguely. The document should be improved since it is very hard to use. On the other hand, we have a wonderful strategy to preserve our heritage. They should be combined.
We are faced with this work. One of the strong impressions of the recent time for me was the annual architectural festival in London. It continued for two weeks and as a part of it there was a ‘round table’ discussion dedicated to the Hermitage 2014 project. This is a modern joint project between the Hermitage and the Dutch architectural bureau of Rem Koolhaas.
What was happening in London? Koolhaas reported to the Russian and foreign experts his thoughts about the way the museum should be at the 21st century. These thoughts go beyond market economy, beyond worshiping of sponsors and museum visitors. The propositions of the development of the Hermitage were at first discussed at the closed session and later in the evening openly and in public.
The hall that can seat three hundred people was crammed on a Saturday night. Not all wishing to attend could get in even though people had to pay 20 pounds entrance fee. There were a lot of young people, mostly architects, among the attending. Certainly, most of them came to see Koolhaas. They were listening to him, to the experts and asked questions. Everyone was interested why the famous architect who is building all over the world got involved in the project that does not have architecture per se. He presented his vision of what to do with the Hermitage space, with the exhibitions and with the museum in the future.
There were several ideas that I would like to share. Some of them were
The analysis of the history and the existence of the Hermitage as well as the propositions for its development were presented orally, in drawings, photographs and graphic works. We all know that the Hermitage is the place that combines the museums, the collections and history. Another peculiarity is that the museum is very big. One can walk for a long time through its halls without stopping.
Koolhaas suggested, as it is accepted in the West, to divide the Hermitage by topics. The Winter Palace can become the museum of history. The Small Hermitage, if the first floor is cleared can become kunsthalle - not just the halls but a separate exhibition space with its own programme. The Hermitage fits for housing the collections. The General Staff Building is for the experimental art.
It is impossible to say that the idea is totally unexpected. Once the director of Peterhof Vadim Znamenov suggested dividing the museum into parts at the same time joining them through the basements. I don’t like the idea of topical autonomy but the idea of underground connection between the buildings can be discussed.
The main goal is to find out how to combine the history of Russia, the beauty of the buildings and numerous expositions in the Hermitage. In the course of the discussion ‘stoppage’ was suggested as one of the solutions. A person is walking along the halls and unexpectedly finds himself in a room dedicated to history and not to art. It was suggested to organize a room of Catherine the Great and present what she did for the Hermitage, what she bought and how she lived... Now people come to one of the rooms in the French gallery that used to be the bedroom of the founder of the Hermitage. They are told about private apartments of the Empress about the rooms next door where Orlov used to live...
There is a room in the Winter Palace where Alexander II was dying, now there is a bust of the Emperor and a memorial plaque. Separate rooms dedicated to history are needed and, perhaps, we need to emphasize them. Nowadays more and more people come to the museum because they are interested in delving deeply into history and its pages used to be forbidden. We should think how we can satisfy that need. Possibly, we can systematize the historic route, make it more bright visually.
Another special and very important topic is the communication of the museum with the Palace Square. It was suggested to make a passage between the Hermitage buildings from the embankment till the square. Many technical difficulties arise and it is often said that this is notvpossible. But underground passages from the square to the embankment could make the space vivid and united. The passage to the square from the embankment between the New Hermitage and the Winter Palace is quite possible. This will contribute to the people traffic. The discussion has started so we should think of what can be realized.
One more important topic is the integration of the interiors of the museum and its history. We have discussed the way the new permanent exposition of the Department of the East, the Muslim Art, should be. The Dutch studied the history of the premises where the exposition will be located. These are the halls that used to be the study of Nicholas I and later on of Kerensky. The interior disappeared long ago but there is a picture of how it looked. How can we depict this history? We were suggested to install glass displays in the centre of the room and leave the ceilings and walls open. A person would be able to concentrate his attention on the exhibits and at the same time see everything that is around. It is understandable that we should find a way to combine the interiors, the history and the exhibits. In the Soviet times it was usual to suppress the history. The museum staff is used to the idea that the halls of the Hermitage are intended for the expositions. Some fear that the restored ceiling will distract the attention from the exposition. This belief should be overcome.
There is another tendency to clear out the ceremonial halls of the Winter Palace from the exhibitions. For several years now we have been doing so. There are no exhibitions in the Large Throne Hall, the Armorial Hall hosts only concerts. The Alexander hall will present the exhibition of silver because there is no other place for presenting the tremendous collection. In a word, we should look for some not too revolutionary ways to join the voice of history and the presentation of the collections.
Approximately the same discussions were taking place at the meeting in London. Mostly likely we will use a few suggestions from there. But these suggestions contain the incentive for further reflections.