Internet-Meeting with Mikhail Piotrovsky at Cafemax
in the Hermitage
- Mikhail Borisovich, in September the Hermitage carried out a wonderful ceremony in connection to the 175th anniversary of the Alexander Column. Would it be permanent, who developed it and do you expect to introduce any changes.
My deputy, State Heroldmaster of Russia Georgy Vilinbakhov, my counsellor General Alexander Galkin, who was the commandant of the city of St Petersburg and Leningrad military region, prepared the ceremony. We hope that the ceremony becomes permanent especially that one of its purposes is to show what is appropriate to carry out at Palace Square. On our website one of the users, who is interested in the Hermitage, asks the following question: "What kind of events do you consider as appropriate for Palace Square?" It is possible to put together a script of events that shall take place at Palace Square and thereby exclude all the bad.
- It became known to me that the Alexander Column is given to the Hermitage. What would change in its life in connection to this?
The Alexander Column is a great monument and it will stand forever. Today
the column is indeed the exhibit of the Hermitage and, naturally, we are
responsible for it. We will restore it, if necessary, protect and guard it.
What would change? First of all, there is a protective zone several
meters around the column; and nobody would be able to do anything in there
without our permission (however, even now all activities that take place
at the square are submitted to the approval of the Hermitage). Secondly,
we put up a green Hermitage fence instead of the terrible militia fence.
Unfortunately, we are obliged to do so. What concerns that
- Why was it the Hermitage that hosted the conference dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Imperial Archaeological Society?
It is a perfectly remarkable date! The Imperial Archaeological Society is a centre that carried out excavations, controlled over any kind of treasure hunting and 'black' archaeology of those times. The Hermitage is also the biggest centre of archaeology; moreover, the Imperial Archaeological Committee was located in the Hermitage most of the time of its existence before the revolution. At one time the director of the Hermitage Alexander Vasilchikov was the Chairman of the Imperial Archaeological Committee. So the Hermitage is a perfectly natural place for organization of such conference. Furthermore, the articles obtained by the Imperial Archaeological Committee are stored at the Hermitage; and now we are exhibiting famous masterpieces (Solokha comb and many others) that were given to the Hermitage by the Imperial Archaeological Committee and not everyone knows about that.
- Has the Hermitage preserved and continued any archaeological expeditions and, if so, were there any especially bright discoveries?
Archaeological expeditions remained at the Hermitage, of course. There
are 17 archaeological expeditions. They are working in different parts
of Russia and abroad - in the Central Asia and in Ukraine. There are also
a lot of discoveries. The brightest ones are connected with Tuva, where
burial mounds are being excavated one by one.
- Which projects do you plan to complete by the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage?
We have a great number of plans for the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage. Unlike normal people that are always waiting for presents to their anniversary we are not waiting for any presents and are not going to ask for them. We intend to complete the next working stage at the Museum Depository and start the next one because this is the most important thing that we have been doing in recent years. The Museum Depository solves the problem of the Hermitage collections accessibility to people. We are going to complete the General Staff building, its Eastern Wing, we are going to restore and open new exhibitions of the antique art, numismatics. We will try to make all the halls, where there are no exhibitions now but only storages, into the exhibition ones as much as it is possible. We are going to publish the Hermitage encyclopaedia, new photo albums about the Hermitage that will be more artistic than informative.
- Do you know what will be presented to the Hermitage for its 250th anniversary?
I know what we are going to present to people. We give presents, but
a few presents are given to us. This year for the Hermitage Days we are
going to get a remarkable historical article - the sabre of Grand Duke
Nikolai Nikolaevich Romanov Senior, it is presented to us by his descendants
the Dukes Dmitry Romanovich and Nikolai Romanovich Romanovs. Also the sponsors
bought drawings by Felten for us. These are
- When would restoration works of the General Staff building be completed?
Restoration of the Eastern Wing of the General Staff building is supposed to be complete by 2014 when we turn 250 years. Now we are living with the motto: "We have 5 years left until the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage". Everything should be finally complete by that date. The first stage would be complete by 2010. A lot has been done already, the first large doors are installed; they are working on strengthening the foundation of the building and are monitoring it.
- The topic of changing the colour of the Hermitage facade has been discussed in the mass media recently. It would be interesting to find out whether the final version has been selected and in what manner the decision would be made, authoritarian or by taking into consideration the opinion of the inhabitants.
The topic was not introduced by the mass media, we set the topic ourselves. None of the mass media has ever remembered that green colour of the Winter Palace is not historical. We wanted this to be remembered. The decision, of course, is made in authoritarian manner by the state authorities for monuments protection. Each year we paint the Hermitage because each year it is necessary to paint one of its facades; and every time we try to make it with more delicate colours. Public opinion is taken into consideration; this is exactly the matter in which public opinion is important. For example, public discussion that started, showed that the most part of St Petersburg inhabitants is not ready to return the historical colour, to change the range of colours. If they are not ready, we are not going to change it now but continue the discussion, consider different versions, present various computer versions of how it can look like.
- Lately new exhibitions have appeared at the Oriental Department and the Department of Art and Culture of Antiquity, would there be any renewals in the exhibitions of the Department of Western Art?
Everything has started for us from the Oriental Department. Most exhibitions at the Department of Western Art have been renovated already. At present the Gallery of German painting is under construction, it is going to be decorated in a new way. Furthermore, we are going to decide how to use the rooms of the second floor when the new art moves to the General Staff Building. At present the most important task in our plans is to renovate the rooms of the Oriental Department since they have been in some kind of neglect for a long time. We opened the exhibition of Japan, there is going to be one for China. During the Hermitage Days we are opening the exhibition of Dagestan. New antique rooms are going to be opened on the same days.
- It is interesting, do you plan any cardinal changes in the exhibitions of the Hermitage halls? There has been a need for that for a while since one gets an impression that time has stopped at the museum and it is not pleasant to look at faded plates.
We have very few faded plates and if there are any then they are on the second
floor. Time really stops in museums, but this is what museums exist
for, so that people find themselves in former times in a museum itself.
The great merit of the Hermitage is that it is a museum in the manner
of the 19th century, a palace museum, a museum with windows. All this
would be surely preserved. The 20th century showed that the attempt to modernize
everything does not end too well. Moreover, a part
- Does your programme for children with impaired vision continue its work in Staraya Derevnya (Old Village)?
This programme continues to work and we are very proud of it, everybody likes it, both children and teachers. In future we are going to develop such type of activities, thank God, our Museum Depository in Staraya Derevnya gives us such opportunities.
- What new things shall appear at the newly opened Depository in Staraya Derevnya?
When we finish the next building there we are going to exhibit Egyptian
sarcophagi, antique sculptures and
- Would the Hermitage Academy develop in the Internet?
The Hermitage Academy will be developed in the Internet, but we are rearranging our Internet activities a bit. The design and general concept would change. When we were developing the Hermitage website we were focused on those who want to see and learn something about the Hermitage from afar, now our website relates more to those who would like to come to the Hermitage, to those who would like to learn the latest news, how the Hermitage makes its living. Quite a number of subsections for the main projects of the Hermitage such as the General Staff building, would be introduced. And we would also introduce some discussions, for example, about the colour of the Winter Palace or about what can be done at Palace Square. We are trying to make our website interactive, introduce video.
- Is it true that the Hermitage has opened its biggest exhibition in Amsterdam ?
The biggest exhibitions of the Hermitage take place at the Hermitage
itself. In Amsterdam it is the Exhibition Centre of the Hermitage. There
is a huge territory there (two large halls and forty rooms) and that is why
we opened one of the biggest exhibitions there that we have ever done
outside the Hermitage. This is
- Mikhail Borisovich, how often do kings and presidents open the exhibitions together with you?
Not very often, letís put it this way. I understand that this question is related to the fact that Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev opened the Hermitage in Amsterdam. In general, from time to time, once in several years it happens that the top statesmen open the exhibitions organized by the Hermitage. This is how it was in Sweden, in France.
- How many visitors did the exhibition in Amsterdam attract? Were there a lot of our countrymen?
Approximately six hundred thousand people have attended the exhibition
in Amsterdam since June. This is an absolutely
Indeed, it is a great success and not just a success. It is comprehended as a national event - the great museum with a large exhibition and the subject is awfully interesting. Love of the Dutch to art and to the Hermitage deserves that people tell more about it. What concerns our countrymen, then we havenít yet counted specifically, but in general it is mostly the Dutch and the Europeans that specially come to see the exhibition.
- To what extent does the interest towards the Hermitage exhibitions remains in Kazan?
The interest towards the Hermitage is still extremely strong. And exhibitions, lectures, seminars and other events related to the Hermitage take place there. Similarly to the Hermitage Kazan Exhibition Centre works actively in various spheres on its own. They have their own project on Art Nouveau, their own photography exhibitions, they support their own artists and artistic life in general. The exhibitions from the Hermitage vary - the exhibition of Islamic art had a magnificent success, now the Heroes - Children of Gods exhibition takes place there. So everything goes the way it should.
- How do you make suggestions on lectures and exhibitions topics in Kazan?
We discuss it together and we meet often. We have special representatives that are dealing with our communication. In general, we do what our Kazan colleagues at the Centre, university and other museums consider as necessary and interesting.
- More than once weíve read in your interviews that the centre in Italy is of different nature. What kind of events takes place there?
The Centre in Ferrara in Italy is another type of the Hermitage activities
abroad. Here the exhibitions take place once in two years. We are preparing
a large Islamic exhibition, there was an exhibition of Garofalo. Both
our and Italian colleagues, who study Italian collections of the Hermitage,
Italian collections in Russia,
- Does the existence of the Centre in Italy help to exhibit works of Italian artists more often at the Hermitage?
Yes, of course, it helps to exhibit works of Italian artists, but the main purpose of this Centre is academic, so that we are able to use Italian materials and do our work with the help of everything what we can obtain in Italy. And there were exhibitions, for example, art of Afro Basaldella, new exhibitions are being prepared.
- It was planned to open the Hermitage Centre in Vyborg in 2009. For what reasons was it postponed?
It is not postponed, you see, we are not constructing canals or plants, we have time. Repair works are in progress in Vyborg. It should be noted that repair works of the building are very thorough, this building would have been waiting for repair works for a long time if not the idea of The Hermitage in Vyborg. I believe that by summer we will organize the first exhibition. But we should not be in any special hurry because the Hermitage in Vyborg is already working, lectures of our employees are being held there on regular basis.
- How is Finnish art presented at the Hermitage? Do you plan to present its exhibition in Vyborg?
Finnish art is presented rather well at the Hermitage. We have several works but the names are reputable. We are going to exhibit Finnish art at the Eastern Wing of the General Staff building. Weíll see about Vyborg. For the time being we shall start with usual Hermitage exhibitions. Everything should start with Catherine the Great, I think it will also be connected with general history - Swedish Vyborg, Russia-Sweden (I will remind you that Vyborg is a Swedish name). I think that one day we will exhibit Finnish paintings that used to be in that building where the Hermitage Centre is going to be located, as there used to be an artistic gallery there and its paintings are now at different museums of Finland.
- Dear Mikhail Borisovich! Donít you think that it is more urgent to open a branch at the Far East of Russia than, for example, in Vyborg? It is not so hard for the inhabitants of Vyborg to get to St Petersburg while some inhabitants of the Far East would never be able to come to St Petersburg due to economic considerations.
Due to economic considerations it is very hard to bring something to the Far East and it is practically impossible to insure it. I suppose that the governing bodies of the Far East should have thought long ago about how to realize or create transport communications that shall allow bringing the Hermitage exhibitions to them. There are some institutions that can be called the Hermitage branches at the Far East. In 1920s a large number of paintings from the Hermitage was given to Khabarovsk Museum. There are excellent works of Western painting and all of them came from the Hermitage. In due time we gave away a lot, all Russian museums have Western painting from the Hermitage.
The centres are established in those places where we feel a real need for them. It is very hard to maintain the centres and it is necessary to prove that all the required conditions shall be provided for them. It means a great number of costs, a great desire of the authorities and many years of successful work. There is a wonderful example of Kazan. In Vyborg it is also the initiative of Vyborg authorities. Not in the sense that they asked us Ďto let them see the paintings from the Hermitageí. Here the Centre is located in the building that was built specially for the artistic gallery and art school back then. Art school still exists there, so it would be a restoration of the architectís intention. It is a special combination of a museum and an art school such as, for example, Shtiglitz School, and it is a special phenomenon.
- How did you manage to invite Swedish museums to participate in the exhibition dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava?
It is very important. The exhibition dedicated to the Battle of Poltava and the previous one - Peter the First and Karl the Twelfth were our idea of how to make exhibitions on subjects that in general separate people. Approximately ten years ago we started this work and it coincided, as it has been found out recently, with the event that the Swedes also stopped to consider Russia as the main enemy. Swedish historiography started to discuss Poltava in a calmer manner and Swedish museums began to cooperate with us with great pleasure. It is better to discuss any delicate matters together and not independently, reasoning differently and aggressively assaulting each other. I think that this is an excellent example of how to discuss such things. We found such an approach to those epic events that both the defeated and the winners are still heroes, they are heroes of their own countries, - for example, to present the Battle of Poltava as Iliad.
- Your Swedish colleagues took part in the exhibition; as far as I remember, you also organized exhibitions with Swedish colleagues and museums dedicated to general history in the past. How can you explain that?
We make exhibitions dedicated to history with all colleagues of ours. By the way, we made a remarkable exhibition, dedicated to 1812, with French colleagues in France and I think, that we will make more exhibitions together. We have very good friendly connections with all Swedish museum, that is why they give us articles that they usually do not give to anyone else. For example, it was the case with the full dress uniform of Karl the Twelfth, the relic. It is the one and only uniform that survived and they gave it only to us. Now we are going to exhibit several Russian banners that were captured as trophies near Narva, these are also Swedish relics, they are stored in Sweden. We are going to exhibit them at the St George Hall during the Hermitage Days. Also it is a rarity, a reminder that life doesnít only consist of victories but that a victory happens after defeat.
- You have exhibited American and English Contemporary art, what's next?
We have a lot of plans, in our 20/21 Project. I am not going to tell everything because we are in the middle of various complicated negotiations. Our nearest plans for the year of France in Russia and of Russia in France are to organize a week of the Centre Georges Pompidou at the Hermitage. French artists of the 20th century would be presented and a whole range of events would be going on around them just as it usually happens at the Centre Georges Pompidou. This is a modern artistic life - cinema, theatre, books and music... This year they are going to host a grand festival and we are going to bring a part of this festival to the Hermitage.
- We, as young people, are interested in exhibitions within your 20/21 Programme. What new projects are you preparing?
I think that young people should be interested in classical exhibitions, for such things should be mastered while being young and when you have the strength to do this because it is more complicated. What concerns modern art... Of course, Project 20/21 is focused on young people to a significant extent. Now we have a wonderful exhibition Newspeak, we are preparing other new ones. I have talked about the exhibition of the Centre Pompidou. Our Youth Centre organizes master classes for the exhibitions. This is not quite the Hermitage, but at the same time it is not outside the Hermitage - it is a transitional stage. Within the framework of the project various events take place. Recently there was a performance of DJ Spooky at the Hermitage Theatre, also very interesting programmes related to classic Soviet pictures. Absolutely unexpected bands from Great Britain performed within the framework of the same programme. We are trying to create an atmosphere of the new art and not just exhibit things.
- How did the crisis affect the Hermitage?
The crisis seriously affected the Hermitage just like everyone else. Culture is not considered to be a priority in our country. State allocations were significantly cut down, accordingly, donations also decreased. Our salaries, bonuses were reduced. In general, we are struggling out and we will see what it will be the next year.
- What plans did the Hermitage not manage to realize due to the crisis ?
We realized all our plans but at a smaller scale. Completion of works at the Museum Depository was postponed for one more year. Some works related to capital repairs were delayed. There were no great catastrophes, all the exhibitions that had been planned, were organized.
- Have there been less visitors at the Hermitage due to the crisis?
There haven't been less visitors due to the crisis. A different matter
is that the tickets got cheaper even for foreigners due to fall in rouble
exchange. Crisis is a
- I know that in most foreign museums, especially in the USA, there
they donít practise boring excursions but rather participation of visitors
(especially children) in real museum
Serious excursions are not boring and it is very important, because there is a limit up to which it is possible to turn science and learning into a game and there is a limit when it is not allowed to do so. This is one of the sins of Western education. They admitted long ago that they turn too many things into a game, on the one hand. On the other hand, there should be something interesting along with academic excursions and we carry out various games. Action scripts are performed at the Museum Depository that allow children to learn better. Our school groups are based on active interrelation between children and exhibits. And there is our Art Studio, where children learn art through drawing. There are many examples, I should say, that the Hermitage has always been a pioneer in such things and also a stimulator to some extent. In Russia there is a splendid boom of pedagogy and of how much museums of our country do for children, and I think that to some extent we encouraged them, but now they are all making great and successful progress. Today museums have substituted most of institutions of culture and they manage this very well, because museums are genuine things, a wonderful method of education.
- The Hermitage and its public... I would like to compare the Hermitage and, for example, the British Museum by the extent of friendliness towards its public. Please, do not take it as criticism, but free admission, restaurant + cafe + refreshment bar, souvenir shop, elevators for handicapped (including to the Parthenon Gallery), a library that is opened for visitors, special exhibits for the blind - all these are characteristic features of the British museum but not the Hermitage. Is this your position based on principle?
First of all, half of it is not true. Our museums are less hospitable than the Western ones. But our public is more aggressive than the Western public. As Iíve mentioned earlier, that people in Amsterdam simply understand that it is necessary to stand in a queue, and here it can be accompanied by various psychological complications, and there are more cases of vandalism.
We can't offer totally free admission since half of our visitors come
to the Hermitage free of charge and that is paid for by the museum
and not by the state. There are no discounts for fellow citizens, but the Hermitage
introduces such discounts, so in that sense we are friendlier.
The fact that the British museum has free admission is a state decision.
And the cafe? Now we are at the
- Good afternoon, Mikhail Borisovich! I remember when I was a child and used to go the Hermitage we were given slippers to put over our shoes so that the floors shouldnít be spoilt. Why donít they do they same now? Is it so simple and easy to restore the floors? Or donít they care at all?
It is not hard to restore parquet and it is covered with protective varnish. What concerns the slippers... If I were a regular visitor and someone made me put on slippers, I would be constantly filing complaints about this. When wearing slippers you immediately feel like a person who has come to somebody elseís home. Moreover, there is much dust from the slippers, it is very difficult to go up the stairs in slippers and one can fall down. That is why it's better to refresh the parquet in order to create normal conditions at the museum. This is exactly the situation when the museum is open and friendly towards a person. Please, feel free to walk without slippers and we will continue to change the varnish, and we are doing so as you can see. Iíll repeat that this is a special example of the museum's friendly attitude towards public.
- On regular days when visiting the Hermitage one gets an impression that the museum uses electricity sparingly since light in the rooms and illumination of paintings are either turned off completely or partially. Saving is praiseworthy, but the impression of the museum gets totally lost.
The impression of the museum canít be lost because it canít be totally bright at the museum, we are not in a film studio or the underground. With all love to our visitors we take care of paintings and light in the museum is set in such a way that it doesn't harm the exhibits. This is not saving, but preservation of monuments life. A great number of the Hermitage exhibits demands extremely sparing light. This is just the same when restoring paintings we never make them look similar to pictures in glossy magazines, what is often done in most museums of the world. Generally, it is very hard to walk around the museum; it is not a television set. You should go up the stairs, pick proper angles... And our eyes should also make efforts. Take notice of how far behind we fell from the 19th century. In the 19th century light coming from the ceiling was enough for human eyes. Now we need additional illumination, but there should be its own limits here.
- When I left the Hermitage with an excursion group I was surrounded by people selling hats and badges. There were militia men standing next to them that were obviously working at the museum and they did nothing! Why are illegal traders still there? It ruins the museum image!
It is very hard to do anything here. I can only say that when you enter Italian museums you are surrounded by traders in the same way. The thing is that it canít be prohibited by law, but we can move them away, outside the Hermitage limits, where it is our right not to let anyone in and not more than this. If nobody bought anything from them, then all would have been well.