View from the Hermitage. Capital Provinciality
At the beginning of October I was presented with Woodrow Wilson Foundation
Award in Washington D.C. This award is given for achievements in humane
business and for service to the people. In this particular case it was
an award presented by the Kennan Institute for the development
Everything was extremely spectacular in outward appearance, but this is not the point. Unexpected contrasting that had arisen turned out to be interesting. By tradition everyone who gets the award gives a speech in front of those present. I was talking about the fact that the relations between Russia and America do not need any ’rebooting’. In my opinion the term is not very apt, furthermore, good relations in the sphere of culture had never become worse even then when political relations between our countries became intense. Together with our American colleagues we carried out joint projects, exchanged exhibitions, study courses, protected the rights of universal encyclopaedic museums, which became an important problem in the world. I talked about our joint plans and about plans for the development of the Hermitage.
I was awarded for service to the people. David Cohen, one of the creators and managers of the McDonald’s network in Russia, received the award for business. A very nice, merry, elderly person was vividly telling about how once he had been struggling through thorns. In his story there appeared a country that was totally different from the one I was talking about. He was drawing an image of a gloomy Russia with officials that were impossible to be dealt with, with hotels where it was impossible to live...
The story with McDonald’s as described by David Cohen is as follows - he was struggling for a long time but no matter what he did nothing came out of it. Then Alexander Yakovlev, who was the ambassador to the USA, advised him to calm down and wait for approaching political and ideological changes. It turned out that appearance of McDonald’s became the result of changes in our country. When I was listening to this I remembered my old joke about cultural exchange between Russia and the USA - we give them the Hermitage and they give us McDonald’s.
The story of Cohen seemed, put it mildly,
McDonald’s is a market expansion and nothing more. Museums bring light
and new initiatives that are important for the world around. Together
with the Americans we are not just exchanging exhibitions we are also
working together, protecting positions of culture in a variety of ways.
In most initiatives museums play a role
In this respect I consider economic and social activities of museums as particularly important. Recently I have been made angry by an article where once again different museum tickets prices for the Russians and for foreign citizens were discussed. Once again they are writing about inequality, and I am quoting here, that is disguised by the discount for Russian citizens. There are no laws that provide people with access to a museum. Discounts have been cancelled in our country, monetization has been carried out. Museums help its own nationals and charge a discounted ticket price for them independently. They pay for ’their own people’s’ discount from their own pocket; this is their social programme. The only way to cancel the difference is to raise the price for everyone. This is not the first time I have been talking about it.
In every museum on the strength of possibilities there is a free entry or the lowest price entry for children, students, retired citizens, special children programmes, cheap season tickets... Museums set an example of social policy and this example is also for the state.
Museums bring light even during acute political moments.
Recently a small scandal has been caused by a speech of the Chairman of the Mufti Council of Russia at the international meeting dedicated to Russia and Islam. By quoting Karamzin he stated that Moscow princes should be grateful to Tatar khans. They helped them to become Moscow princes and they helped Moscow to become the strongest city of Russia. Those present were filled with indignation at that.
There was really nothing to be indignant at. It is necessary to have a clear idea of what is the Golden Horde. It was an enormous world power. With all respect to Russian greatness of authority that was destroyed by the Tatar invasion and then formed again one cannot help noticing that it was growing stronger next to that world power. Russian majesty was forming by using all economic and political opportunities that were provided by the Horde. It was not just raiding detachments as in Tarkovsky’s film about Andrey Rublev. The detachments raided to collect contribution but they were arriving from large cities where Russian princes went and conducted their policies. That policy was rather crafty. It was there where Moscow princes managed to surpass their fellow countrymen.
The Hermitage and other museums told about this by means of their exhibitions both here and in Kazan time and again. We are engaged in a constant dialogue of cultures that allows us to shed light on how people should live in the world.
It is museums that appeared to be at the forefront of the struggle for heritage preservation. It is them that perfectly understand consequences of any ’exceptions from rules’ in monument protection legislation. It is clear that nobody can expel St Petersburg from the UNESCO’s List but it can be declared to be an endangered monument. And this is a real shame.
We all know that our city is in danger. The story with Gazprom tower should not push the problem into the background but highlight it brightly as a whole. I think that the ugly garret that was erected above the house of Count Arakcheev next to Palace Square is no better than the skyscraper. It was suggested to the architect, who designed it, to change something. Instead he filed a charge against the Committee on State Control, Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments for intruding into his author’s solution. It is the architect who should be dreaming that his name would not be recognized by anyone.
This is a manifestation of provinciality and we should also fight against it. The Hermitage as the main museum of Russia is one of a few indications of the preserved capital status of St Petersburg. That is why we have a right to fight against provincialization of the city.
The thought that the city becomes modern with the appearance of a skyscraper is wrong, provincial.
Besides all the rest Gazprom tower is not beautiful.
We are always told that it is good architecture. It is no such
matter. We are dealing with an absolutely primitive solution;
it is not without reason that it does not have a specific
author. Gazprom’s Torch (Fakel) is a creation of a group
The question is not whether we should let new architecture to St Petersburg.
We can let good architecture in, but not the bad one for sure. The scariest
are the exceptions from the rules. This is a way to disaster for the monuments
protection system. Why is the Russian Federal
Very often we are looking at other cities comparing St Petersburg with them. Capitalocity is manifested in doing something new, unique. We can say as much as we want that London is the capital of contemporary art and we are still a long way off from it. But we can also bring London to St Petersburg like the Hermitage did by opening the exhibition of young British artists. We are the first to present them to the public. Only then they are going to be presented in London. These authors competed and the main prize for them was to take part in the Hermitage exhibition. This is our choice, initiative and contribution.
In order for the city to become modern it is possible to build a high tower or it is possible to present contemporary art and watch how it shall tell upon its artistic life. This is a dialogue of modernity and traditions. Here contrasting is possible only on one principle: bad or good taste.