View from the Hermitage. Such a Wonderful Game
In the end of August the Hermitage opened the exhibition Golden Age of the Russian Empire at the Shanghei Museum. Our exhibition is devoted to Russian autocracy and education. It has several peculiarities. A Chinese designer made an interesting decoration: gilded showcases, green color, light emphasizing the splendor of things. What often happens in America did not happen here. There, they start to restore interiors in “the tsar style” and end with kitch. In Shanghei it was a success indeed.
There is yet another peculiarity that seems important to me. Now Shanghei is holding the International exhibition where there is a Russian pavilion. Newspapers wrote that it was not successful. It exhibits inventions of not the supreme class. It is known that the president who is planning to attend this exhibition requested that this exposition be modified to some extent to include elements of modernization and innovation. This has not been done yet but our exhibition, as was reported several times, is a supplement to the Russian pavilion. It will tell you about the golden age of the Russian Empire, about modernization and innovation in the national history. The age of Peter I is a period of modernization and attempts of catching up with Europe. Catherine is an example of innovation when the reworked Western and Eastern experience was applied in creating the great empire. It all is shown through things: Sevres and Russian porcelain, art associated with education. Therefore, the exhibition was in place.
The Shanghei Museum is very active and so is its policy. We initially arranged this exposition for the International exhibition. Concurrently with ours, the exposition of Indian art Gods in Temple from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. A large-scale exhibition from the best museum of Japan is being prepared. Therefore, the museum that holds only Chinese art is made universal and supplements the cultural focus of the International exhibition.
In addition, for the International exhibition the Shanghei Museum made two large and spectacular pavilions on which much money was spent. It is impossible to get there as there are long queues mainly of Chinese people. One of the pavilions displays inventions that were demonstrated for the first time at various international exhibitions. The general slogan of this exposition is “Better city, better life”. Another pavilion is devoted to history of cities worldwide. Multimedia is used there, everything glitters, copies of caves, streets and cities appear. On the one hand, it all looks like Las Vegas, on the other hand, like Disneyland. And didactics is available too. For example, Ur city on a big table, with a dessert and excavations. Houses and walls start to rise from the dessert. The birth of the city is shown scientifically and visually. It is an attraction, yet a moderate one. Another example, a hall devoted to the destruction of Troja. Here, the attraction is intense. Walls have animated excavations, in semi-darkness there are heaps with the armor, a Trojan horse stands and a Greek man goes out of it now and then. Disneyland in its pure form. And next to it there are six showcases with exclusive items from the British museum that are related to the Sumerian history. Further there is the Athens hall with some unique items.
The display principle is not customary for museums. If we were offered to participate in the similar event, we would prefer to arrange the exhibition separately. Yet it has a certain layout. In a special hall, with a different light and silence, all of a sudden the best items from Tibet’s museums appear. Absolutely exciting. Another hall has items from Beijing’s museum-palace, further there are items from Dresden’s treasure house. It is a risky game but they play it. The museum arranged this exposition at the highest technical and technological level. It had held negotiations with other museums and had been planning the scenography for several years. It resulted in a new cultural product that need not be followed. But it is a demonstration of respect to the opinion of the museum from authorities and the makers of the International exhibition. In my view, it is a good example of a joint museum activity.
The Hermitage ends the season with Picasso’s exhibition. Of all the exhibitions ever held in Russia it is the largest exhibition of the artist. And not many exhibitions were held worldwide. Its uniqueness is in the fact that it arrived from the Picasso Museum as it is closed for repair.
The time of its creation of hard for us. As the director I had to act as an arbiter in disputes between our and French colleagues. The dispute was conceptual. We decided for ourselves to make the main exhibition of the year in the parade halls of the Winter Palace. It was important for us that Picasso “play” with the Winter Palace. French colleagues believe that the most important thing is the collection itself but not the place where it is displayed. The French thought that paintings should be hung against an even background, on walls and at a higher level. They wanted to arrange everything as it was in other museums. As we objected the dialog was started. As a result, Picasso’s surrealistic paintings were hung in the Armour hall next to columns and chandeliers having coats of arms of the Russian Empire. Sculptures Man with a Lamb, Apollinaire resonated with figures of Russian warriors. Without interfering with each other they reminded that Picasso was brought to an official hall where governors awaited to be received by the emperor. We ensured that it did not look expressly. In the Field Marshal’s hall we placed one of Picasso’s powerful famous thing Massacre in Korea and one battle piece. Nearby a big Korean exhibition was held. There is a connection. Next is the Eastern gallery. Everyone got used to seeing Romanovs’ portraits there. In place of these portraits Picasso’s realistic portraits were hung. It is also a game for those people who visit the Hermitage often.
Each joint exhibition is born through a struggle. Picasso’s ready exhibition was brought to us but it turned to be a joint museum product. We got a letter from Frederic Mitterrand, Minister of Culture of France, who was impressed with the way Picasso is exhibited at the Winter Palace in the halls where Russian Ark was filmed.
In October a week of the Pompidou Center will be held at the Hermitage. In the museum world this center is almost a legend. It is a synthetic formation that united a museum, library, book selling, jazz concerts, cafe... In brief, it is a place where life is intense. There are queues at the entrance, artists, clowns, musicians perform at the square. A special world.
I believe we should focus on contemporary European art as it is closer to us. The meaning of exhibitions is not about pleasing their visitors. Exhibitions should give an impulse to artists. Museums were created to the pleasure of their owners and so that artists would copy paintings there. In our country everyone, including the minister of culture, says that contemporary art is having bad times. We do not have a Pompidou Center. We suggest to see if it can work here. French colleagues said that this autumn the Pompidou Center will hold a festival and offered us to bring something alike here. I think it is interesting.
We will display several paintings by French artists in the Anteroom. A theatrical stage, one of the plots brought from the festival in Paris, will be placed in the Nicholas hall. The theatre is planned to offer video programs, performances of French and Russian groups selected by our and French curators. When the Pompidou Center was founded it was planned to make an open repository from which paintings can be taken out. We will make such an installation. Paintings are kept in screens and each day one painting will be taken out, it will be commented and discussed. Let’s see how it will work. We will observe how the public reacts to it. It is important that it all will take place at the Hermitage. It weighs down on you and makes you enter into a dialog. Here, installations will look differently than anywhere else. In some sense it is museum’s impudence.
I tirelessly continue to say that museums is one of the most important things in the world. They should be listened to. They make a new cultural product, not purely a museum one but synthetic. I dare to believe that nothing of the kind has ever happened. In our case it all will be held under the patronage of two cultural institutions, the Pompidou Center and the Hermitage.
In reply to the Pompidou Center’s visit to our city, we will open the exhibition Russian Imperial Guards in October in Paris. For the Hermitage this is not the first project under the theme “War as a means of cultural exchange”. We considerately tell about cultural connections between the countries through the war. It is important that the Cossacks Museums of Paris will participate in the new exhibition. It is a sensation. After the Civil war the guards’ cossacks managed to keep their relics and remove them and created a wonderful museum in Paris. It has paintings, portraits, regalia, banners...
We are often donated things kept by Russian military men abroad. We immediately exhibit them and never insist that all of them are transferred to us. By the way, the Cossacks Museum looks great in Paris. We made a cooperation agreement with it and the state promised financial support to us. It is absolutely unnecessary to bring all the relics to Russia. The Cossacks Museum is a monument for Russians in Paris. Cossacks carried Paris, came here, and they are remembered. It is a page of the French-Russian relations. Items of this museum will be featured at our exhibition for the first time. It is one of the forms of interacting with our diaspora in Paris.
The important thing that we begin to realize only now is that after the revolution Russian culture and traditions were kept in Russia and abroad. Things that could disappear there were saved here, and vice versa. The question that often arises: should everything be returned to Russia? In my opinion, it is important to ensure that Russia’s footprints are felt worldwide. Russian art and culture should be represented there not only through temporary exhibitions but permanently as well. For museums there are all kinds of ways to do so.