A demo lesson forever
An exhibition Light and Glory. Russian Orthodox Art is opened
It is a powerful and beautiful exhibition telling about the discovery of Russian Orthodox art, its diversity, saints and feasts, the Byzantine origin of some characters, restoration and modern iconography... The Dutch especially like the solemn splendor of orthodoxy, which we were able to show.
That which was presented in Amsterdam is rarely put on display at exhibitions. This includes frescos unearthed by our expedition in Pskov in the church covered up under Peter I, when the walls of a fortress were built. They were restored in the Hermitage workshop and are stored in a special repository built in Staraya Derevnya. Archaeologists discovered them, and restorers revived them. It is the work that no one, except the museum, would have done. At the exhibition there are a lot of icons associated with the imperial house. There are church sets of Alexander I, including a field set for the liturgy. It is no coincidence that the cover of the catalog contains an icon of Kazan Mother of God in a casing made by Ovchinnikov and Faberge. There are icons and there are casings in which they live. One of the main exhibits is a huge shooters’ banner of the 17th century depicting the Last Judgement. This item represents both the church art and the martial art.
The exhibition is a sample of the museum display of the Orthodox church art. That does not preclude it from displaying it in a church or a church museum. But in the church it would have been different. Sometimes it is said that icons should be contemplated in the church. Is there an opportunity to contemplate them? I think not. One can discuss the functions that an icon or another work of art acquires in the museum or the church. This can be combined without interfering with one another but, importantly, they should be treated with respect.
Of course, in arranging exhibitions each museum has its own approach based on collections. In Amsterdam, we proceeded from our collections, the history of the imperial court, museum studies. Archaeologists dug, critics gathered perishing icons in different places, and restorers cleaned them... Better than the museum, no one knows how to make exhibitions. But in this work it needs rights and opportunities to enjoy these rights. Museums are hardly perceived as the main figure in this process.
There are two important things: the assurance that the things provided
for an exhibition will be returned, and their insurance. We have just
got another response from the government regarding our request on the
state guarantees of insurance of exhibitions. They do not want to provide
us with these guarantees. They offer to include insurance in the budget
from which they will pay to insurance companies. This complicates the
situation. In addition, I will repeat what I said: insurance in this country
implies bidding. This means that information will be posted in the Internet
regarding how many items,
A striking example is a situation that is unfolding now in the U.S. There, the court decided, in our view illegally, on the owner of the property available within the territory of our country. This refers to "Shneerson’s collection" claimed by an American religious organization of lubavitch hasids. On my desk there is the latest report on how it is unfolding. Hasids inform the District Court of Colombia that Russia has not executed the decision of the Washington court and has not returned Shneerson’s library to them. If they manage to find its property in the U.S., it may be seized. Attached is a list of upcoming exhibitions from Russia. Clearly, there is a danger.
Further, there is a problem with the exhibition of icons from the Rublev Museum in the U.S. The museum, referring to the arising circumstances, intends to return the items before the expiry of the exhibition term. The receiving party refuses to do so. The refusal to return the icons, supported by American court, testifies that we are not worried for nothing. From the perspective of American justice, the Russian museum has no sovereign rights.
These actions are directed against rights of culture. People are entitled to share exhibitions and enjoy them without worrying about how to get items back and on time. Apparently, the religious organization has special rights over the museum and its collections. How can be museum items taken as collateral, how items that arrived through cultural exchange can be captured?
The saddest thing is that return guarantees are needed at home, too.
As an example, see what is happening with the Toropetsk icon from the
Russian Museum. The term of its stay in a church of
Everything should be returned on time and examined. The Pskov
Let me say it again: anything may be sent to an exhibition but this should not happen by an order or shout from above. The museum provides items to someone who has conditions for their exposure, who can legitimately give guarantees of their safety and return. The Hermitage has a Novgorod icon of Nicholas the Pleaser of the 14th century, of which we are very proud. Just to remind you, by request of Catholic bishops we displayed it in a church in Italy. Arrangements were made as for any exhibition. If we gave the icon to the Catholic church, we can give it to the Orthodox church as well. Besides, there are church museums. But the core principles of provision of items should be based on autonomous rights of museums.
I think the role of the museum is broader than the chief guardian of valuables as it is commonly believed. The museum is the apex of the life and biography of artwork. These items have worked in the field for which there were made. They come to the museum which teaches living by a story of the past.
History should be known. If we carefully look at sharp political situations
in the world, we will notice that much is repeated. In Libya, the rebels
returned the old royal flag. They fight under it juxtaposing it to a purely
green flag of Gaddafi. Social protests in Egypt return, as in 1950 when
the army and the Muslim Brothers struggled for power. Military actions
which are taking place now are similar to those that were in the
Recently a discussion has been raised around the term "crusade".
It should be borne in mind that this concept is identical to the concept
of jihad. This is a holy war in the literal and figurative sense. The
concept of jihad as a holy war was revived under the influence of crusades
during the war for the return of Jerusalem. The word which originally
meant a struggle for good deeds has acquired a purely military meaning.
The museum is able to explain how it happens.
Museums have much to explain, to show how words and things, depending on the time and circumstances, change their meanings. The shooters’ banner depicting the Last Judgement is part of the history and culture. It is a symbol of the role of military banners and the role of religion in the military symbolism.
Of course, museums are in a difficult situation. But we will surmount
it. I have recently spoken by phone with counterparts in the U.S. that
our next exhibition has been canceled. We will look for opportunities
when the situation changes. We have good and