Interview to the newspaper Nevskoye Vremya
Chairman of the Union of Russian Museums, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Mikhail Piotrovsky is one of the symbols of modern St Petersburg culture. And the State Hermitage he leads is one of key symbols of the city commemorating its 307th anniversary these days.
– At the moment the museum is much more of than it is considered, – says Mikhail Borisovich. – All over the world museums are not only powerful cultural centers but symbols of nations and cities. Louvre to a considerable extent is the symbol of France and, of course, Paris; the Metropolitan is a symbol of New-York; the British Museum is one of the symbols of Great Britain. The Hermitage for the whole world is one of the most significant symbols of Russia, which is used not only to judge how the land lies in Russia (roughly speaking, whether the parquet is cleaned well). The dynamism of the museum is used to judge the dynamic of Russia.
– You have to act also as a public figure and every time to remind that we must be cultured – no to set up a skating-rink on Palace Square, not to hand out art objects from museums to the four winds, not to write illogical laws... Why is it necessary to stand up culture in Russia all the time?
– In fact, it has happened for the last 300-400 years. Culture has to be defended as it absorbs so much that sometimes it is put aside as it is embarrassing. On the one hand it calms down and that is why it is very important for people, on the other hand it requires certain training, understanding of those who are not able to understand it and it irritates. Thus, if the government of the country does not understand culture, it needs protection, if it does, then it is necessary to use opportunities of culture for development of the country on the whole.
When I am asked why I have not made a stand against demolition or construction of another building, I reply that I speak generally and concerning Palace Square and what can be seen from it in particular as I am responsible for the Hermitage and, first of all, we should consider this issue from the position of the Hermitage. But at the same time the struggle for Palace Square partly puts in order things in the city. Culture can set people on thinking. I think that changing of many laws took place after speeches of cultural figures. In particular, many thanks to our theater figures, they speak very well and they are more recognizable than we are. But generally speaking, all together we really can put things in order and not only in the cultural sphere. And I am sure that we can make people to increase culture.
– Are difficulties art faces when crossing borders the result of the fact that culture in general is not the priority of the government development?
– Unfortunately it is so. Just recently they start to use the word “culture” in formal documents and speeches. The point even not in the terms but in the lack of general understanding – not of the young and not the elderly – there is middle generation that does not understand that it is valuable. They will go to the theater to glamorous exhibitions... But at the same time many people lack this kind of inner feeling, that previous generation had and, as I see it, the young generation has, that this is something spiritual and requiring a special attitude. Many young economists who make laws lack this feeling. It is obvious that the Ministry for economic development do not understand that culture has its specific features and it is not just a market. Culture has its own, special rights. Dmitry Sergeyevich Likhachev told about this. We insist all the time that the laws related to tender documentation and transfer of art works to Church should note: “Except for museums, libraries and archives”.
When we take pictures to exhibit abroad in the papers in is written “goods”. When culture is considered as goods and it is integrated into the system of market relations then the trucks with goods stand at the customs. And they say: ‘It does not matter, a commercial enterprise carries them’. Our goods go more or less out of queue but exceptionally because of good human relations with the customs. But another customs officer says: ‘No’ and that is it.
There is no understanding that it is necessary to speak about culture in another language. It is not a product, not a service. It is the same as to think that the doctor “renders a service” saving life. To preserve cultural heritage is not a service bit obligation of the state. And here the matter is not in the fact that the state wants to serve people and gives an order to us “Serve”. We have a different thing here. That is we who must give orders to the state: “Give us this and that as we preserve something that is more important than you”. Culture has its rights, its own principles. And that is why things which are brought to the concert important for thousand of people are more important than the goods which are being waited by the seller who must quickly sell it. Culture must have clearly written privileges. They used to be in minds, but they are not there any more but they are not on the paper either. The whole new legislation destroys privileges of culture. If at the end of the Soviet time there was romantic legislation that allowed much to the culture – for example, we and science were allowed keeping the money we earned, then now we are struggling to save it. As they want to take away all the time. The system of especially valuable institutions of cultural heritage has been developed which has a bit different salary, some other rights of protection against privatization, the Law on Museum Fund... All this placed a special emphasis on culture. At the moment new legislation is aimed to level it. People from the Ministry of Economics told us about tenders. For example, Oleg Tabakov has tried to explain them that tender in the creative institution is impossible as he himself knows who is a better painter. But they say that it will not let a young painter to come up. As the young painter will ask for a smaller price, he will work for you and then he will come up. But what kind of play we will have in the end – it does not matter.
– What can common people do in this situation to defend their rights for culture?
– In our country many people are nervous and irritated: “Everything is bad”. That is why when they see a queue to the Hermitage they start shouting and boiling over. I can understand that standing in a queue is bad and I can understand that the queue is not well organized, we are trying to organize it better – but anyway, this queue will remain.
Or the newspaper gives a report on the inspection conducted in museums with an accusatory kind of pathos. This inspection was held after the theft in the Hermitage. Of course, everyone describes the theft in the Hermitage in details, but we have deserved it. However, no one writes that there has no been such inspection ever in the world. No country in the world has what we have now, – complete inspection of availability of items in the museums. It is a common knowledge that as soon as inspections are held in museums, but we did not have any for ten years, and then certainly it appears that something has come and something has left. By the way, in the result of the inspection we have found some things, placed on record, put into registers. It is important that if to compare with the whole national estate – from oil to valenki – the least has been stolen in the sphere of culture.
So culture should be supported with a good word at least. For example, actions on protection of historical center of the city which have acquired a mass character – and they are very important. And again, it is right to go to court, it is a civilized form to express own opinion. There is nothing terrible either in going to court or in losing the case. It is a normal form to clear up. It is more civilized as another form is either tough abuse of power or state abuse of power: to call and arrange for something to be done. The question may be solved in court. In fact, our people are becoming more active in this sense.
– In recent years the projects taking arts into streets have been developing. But copies of pictures from the Russian Museum are blurred by the citizens and exactly in St Petersburg – in Moscow everything is safe. What do you think it is connected with?
– We have put up pictures all around the city but we put them not as pictures. Our position is principle: cities are deformed with advertisement, advertisement deforms people, and works of art should be placed instead of advertisement. We have an arrangement with those who are engaged in advertising that a part of social advertisement in the city is given to the museum. We had a program of the Hermitage masterpieces in Moscow, in others cities and it continues in other cities of Russia – I think, in 40 cities reproductions of great works are put in place of advertisement. And here first of all, dispute starts: advertisement – art. And secondly, they are safe there. Another variant is in place of advertisement on the scaffolds of the buildings under construction. We try to put sights of Petersburg there, as it is necessary to remind the customers of constructions how Petersburg should look like. We have many barbarians, vandals but art should be imposed. The picture taken from the museum must obligatory raise perception. At the moment the eye is educated on the basis of advertisement, television, magazines. There is nothing bad in glamorous magazines but there is more advertisement than anything else, it forms wrong taste and it is dangerous. A real palace does not look like a palace from the magazine. A real tsar does not look like a tsar from a movie. A museum is a real palace with its thin places on the floor just as in palaces in which kings live. In palaces from the cinema everything is tidy. That is why time and time again we remind people about the museum, we have covered up the whole city with pictures from the Hermitage, we took large reproductions to residential districts (by the way, on the last day of the city). It is the whole action. It is an action with emphasized aggressive character. Of course it can provoke another aggressive response with the knife. But we take a reproduction. And we have not experience it yet.
We have signed walls all over the city, but there was time when nobody drew graffiti. It means we should work. Do you know how criminality in New-York subway has been liquidated? It is a well-known story: first they liquidated graffiti that was drawn in the subway. At night they cleaned carriages, painted them. And offenders who took the subway next time saw that everything is clean. They drew and drew but then they stopped. And gradually they stopped attacking people in the subway. Then they left. It is an amazing story how New-York did away with criminality, starting with limitation of the sphere they felt at ease.