Rembrandts Living In The Hermitage Museum Are Our Russian Rembrandts
- How is the Hermitage Museum doing at the height of summer?
- There are a lot of tourists. It is great because they bring money. But at the same time tourists are a jam that blocks the museum as a traffic jam blocks the street. People experience difficulties when they want to see the museum without a hurry and approach their favourite paintings. Just recently I have been walking through the halls and next to Leonardo's paintings a woman grabs me by my hand and says, "Look what they are doing! They crowded the paintings and now they are taking pictures of them and irradiate them!" But all of the paintings were under the glass and one of the Japanese visitors was taking pictures without the flash. I hope that the problem with flash will be solved soon; there are digital cameras without flash. Also the bad impact of the flash on the painting is not proven. The paint crumbles more after the rock concerts on the Palace Square.
- But does the flash distract the other visitors?
- It is impossible to look at the painting with flashes all around. It is the same with air conditioning in the museum. We do not have air conditioning everywhere; it is too complicated and expensive. Besides, people need air conditioning more than paintings that live behind the thick walls for ages. There is a constant dilemma - comfort for people or comfort for paintings. And that woman was partially right about the irradiation. Paintings should be protected but also they should be shown to people. The whole museum is built on risks like that. Of course it is easier to lock everything up in the vault so that no one would damage or steal it. But we must always maintain the balance of our visitors’ interest and the objects’ priorities.
- Recently one of the visitors couldn’t get inside of some of the halls and so she brought a claim against the Hermitage Museum and lost.
- In the court decision there was an adequate statement about the logic
of the plaintiff. According to her logic the Hermitage
Museum must cease all the restoration works,
- Did the museum manage to protect the science and the postgraduate
studies programme that the bureaucrats wanted to take away?
- They left us neither for now. A lot of things are being brought into
order right now and so negative consequences may follow. Cultural institutions
are financed by one division of a department while science is financed
in another one. The Hermitage Museum under the
By the way, our society had an acute reaction to what was happening to the science. When we received the papers where the research scientists were excluded we thought that it would be a usual struggle by means of letters and in the department corridors. All of a sudden it turned out that it caused response from people. The museums have presented their suggestions to the Department of Economic Affairs. I believe a compromise will be found.
- There is no final answer to a question about who should head the museum - a manager or a scientist. Do you feel your personality split acting as a manager now and thinking as a scientist in the evening?
- European tradition is as follows: museums are headed by scientists
who act like managers at the same time. There is no splitting there.
For example an archaeologist is used to raise money, render an account
in a cunning way and spend the money wisely. A humanities
scientist has the same skill as well. But generally if you ask clever
people you can learn everything. When a scientist takes an executive
position he understands the most important thing - there are things
which cannot exist because they cannot exist. It is a rather
- Have you ever had to ask for money "for the Hermitage" from the businessmen?
- Really, the worst is to ask for money from the state. But we do not
ask. We demand from the state and we do it in a harsh manner. Although
at the same time we show that we can earn ourselves. There is a limit.
It is real to earn
- What is you clear position regarding what can and cannot be done on the Palace Square?
- It is not about my position. There is a regulation of using the Palace Square. It was adopted after the figure on top of the General Staff Arch burned. But the regulation is often misused. Now under an agreement with the Governor we prepare a list of things that can happen there. I believe that ceremonial events must take place on the Palace Square, like military parades of all types, pledging oaths of allegiance or accepting the students for the first year to the military schools. It is possible to conduct starts and finishes of the sport events. Also it is possible to have concerts but not the types with loud screaming, yelling and uncontrolled crowd but ballet or opera concerts with normal audience. A big concert may take place once a year.
Another important thing is the sound level. It cannot be higher
- In your opinion, is a law on using the Palace Square necessary or the regulation is enough?
- The regulation is not always carried out. For example, there must be
no pyrotechnical effects. Also the most important here, as for the whole
city, is height but no one follows the height norms. They build
In France there is a law on Louvre. The Hermitage has a number of decrees which separate us from the other museums. But we have to constantly struggle and prove our status. And we are truly special. Of course it would be better to secure it by the law.
- What is a successful museum - the one with unique objects, lots of exhibitions or crowds of visitors?
- It is a very good and complicated question - what is a successful
museum and what is the criterion for measuring its success. A lot
of people are occupied with economics of culture today. After
you struggle through the clever terms in their articles you seem
to go back in time into the Soviet Union or to today’s New York.
What is the general amount of visitors? What percent of the population is covered with the museum activity? The visitors' quantitative criterion
doesn’t fit here. We were the first to understand it. There were
times when crowds of people tried to get inside our museum so articles
with headings like "Beware, Hermitage!" were published. The articles explained that there were too many people and that something
had to be done, so the restoration works had begun. Then the "quantitative"
epidemic hit the West. Everybody was happy about 5 million visitors
in Louvre or Metropolitan Museum. But their directors just shrug their
shoulders when they met - so what? Sometimes it is impossible to enter
a museum. I remember the
I think that the Hermitage Museum follows the right plan. We try to make the museum accessible for those who have little money
to the maximum. We should build such a system under which the chief
function of the museum will be carried on - preserving the nation's
spiritual health. We try to expand our territories but not without any
limits since people cannot walk through the museum for an endless
number of hours. That's why we are restoring the East Wing of the General
Staff Building. We came up with an open fund storage which is the best
in the world for now. A system of visiting the storages
solved the problem of not all of the objects being shown at
the museum. We make our collections as accessible as possible but we are
not exposing the raw materials. We are exposing the product:
our exhibition or our exhibition centre. That is we demonstrate a car,
not oil or gas. We are also active
- And who are the judges?
- It is not even clear who should judge. Different people have different attitude. One would exclaim "It is wonderful, everything is in perfect condition!", another would say after seeing the palaces in the movies "It's a bit dark here and the corner is chipped". The visitors' impressions have always been interesting to me. When you lead the people who own castles and palaces you can have a pleasant talk about the restoration works - what to do with the chandeliers or the floor which wears off under the feet of thousands of visitors. And people who have seen the palaces only in the movies complain that there's not enough glitter or there’s a wrong door.
In my opinion the Russian museums have shown themselves marvellously
during the last
- Does the Hermitage abroad fit into your "maximum accessibility plan"?
- We are an aggressive institution. We have the Hermitage and the centres beyond its limits. The saying "we don't care if it's London or Kazan" is ours. Following the maximum accessibility tendency we organize big exhibitions abroad. And it is not like when someone just takes our objects, no, we work out the concept ourselves and we end up not just showing the interesting and beautiful things but the history of their existence in Russia. We represent the Russian Hermitage Museum. I believe we are the first to demonstrate abroad a product and not raw material. Then an idea to create permanent Hermitage scientific and exhibition centres emerged. Representing the Hermitage and promoting the country is more important than matryoshka dolls and so I forbid selling souvenirs in the museum. This is a story about Russia as a great cultural empire which called for and adopted the great masters. Rembrandts living in the Hermitage Museum are our Russian Rembrandts. They have lived here for several centuries.
The general scheme is as follows: we are the planet and around us there are the artificial sputniks. We can transfer them from one orbit to another one, launch and draw back. We can change the content. And it is a dynamic system. For example, in Amsterdam there is the Hermitage Embassy and we organize a new exhibition once every half a year. Right now a big building is being restored there and the year 2009 opened with the Imperial Ball in the Winter Palace exhibition. The story there is full of delight, even the flats are sold with a view on the Hermitage.
Recently we have opened the
The Las Vegas Centre which was opened along with the Guggenheim Museum moved to Europe seven years later. We decided that we completed our mission and brought art to Las Vegas. And also the system must be dynamic, we must constantly move. So that's how we came up with the idea of a New Arts Museum in Vilnius.
- Was it your idea to let the children inside the Museum for free?
- When I am asked about what I had done for the Hermitage it is
the only thing I mention. At first the ushers couldn't understand
why the children should be let in for free if they just run to the canteen
- Children of actors grow up behind the curtains. You are a son of the Hermitage Museum director so have you grown in the museum halls?
- As you understand I did grow up in the Hermitage. By the way my brother and I liked to collect the acorns and to see who had more. We looked for them in the Alexandrovsky Garden and they also let us into the Winter Palace Garden since it was closed for the visitors. There were no people and we collected a lot of acorns. I don’t even know why because we haven't done anything with them. But it was interesting.