Russian Museum celebrates its 120 year anniversary, interview with Vladimir Gusev
The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg is currently celebrating its 120 year anniversary. Founded in 1898, the Museum has since become the world's largest collection of Russian art, as well as a unique architectural complex in the historical center of St. Petersburg.

The museum collection includes about 400 000 exhibits and covers all historical periods and trends in the development of Russian art. The collection includes directions and movements from a period over 1000 years: from the 10th to the 21st century.

The Russian Museum today is an impressive museum complex, as well as the largest authority on scientific research and restoration of Russian art, which oversees the work of all other art museums in the country.

Below is a translated version of the interview with the director of the Russian Museum Vladimir Gusev conducted by New Times.


NT: Vladimir Alexandrovich, in the mass consciousness, the Russian Museum exists as a collection of classical paintings, a treasury of achievements of national fine art. What is your relationship with modernity? It’s known that contemporary art exhibitions in the Hermitage, for example, were accompanied by scandals.
VG: Back in the day, when we first began to actively show contemporary Russian art in the Marble Palace and attracted contemporary artists - colleagues from other museums would sometimes flash us an ironic smile ...

Contemporaries have always had a very complicated relationship with contemporary art because it reflects even the unsightly aspects of our life. We must understand, that the function of art in the twentieth century has changed significantly in comparison, for example, with the XIX century. Contemporary art is a social gesture, it’s political, often shocking, provocative and challenging ...

The Russian Museum already collected and preserved, at the beginning of the 20th century, what then was called modern art. The Tretyakov Gallery did too. Tretyakov pretty much bought up the paintings of his contemporaries en masse, and his collection became the base of the gallery. The Russian Museum, meanwhile, was performing the same function with respect to the paintings of the Russian avant-garde. It’s not by chance after all, that we are the largest collection of the Russian avant-garde.

Kazimir Malevich, who was known to once claim that the museum is a cemetery of art, and that museums are not needed, eventually found shelter in the Mikhailovsky Palace, after getting kicked out of everywhere else. Avant-garde artists also created a museum of modern art in their time, however they quarreled quickly as they were unable to agree on hanging arrangements amongst themselves. And their collection ended up in the Russian Museum. In the 1920s, 30s and even 50s, when the ideologists claimed this work was formalist, my predecessors hid these paintings and kept them out of harm’s way. In the 1930s, a department of the new trends was established, which still exists to this day currently run by the famous researcher of contemporary art, Alexander Borovsky. The museum decides collegially which acquisitions are necessary; is it must-have art which will forever remain in history, or will it eventually fade away with time.

But I’d like to say something else. Artistic life must be to a certain degree abnormal, there should always be something happening, this is only natural. It’s possible of course, to front human feces as art and sell it for crazy money. However, provocative things should be exhibited in galleries, art centers - the purpose of the Museum is a little different ...

NT: Do you manage to get acquainted with the work of other museums? Do you take away anything from the global experience?
VG: When I first became the director of the museum (in 1988. - NT), I trained in the US and Europe. There's not that much of a difference in the approach to the museum business over there - there simply was no October Revolution. More precisely, there were revolutions, but they were a long time ago, in England or France, for example ... Therefore, there is a different method of organization, and the conditions vary too. Over there, the museums are actively supported with private capital, and large foundations are also often involved in financing. They have a more flexible policy, in the Metropolitan Museum, for example, there is no fixed entry fee. Even if you don’t have enough money, you will be let in for free. The processes which took place for us only 20-25 years ago, “happened" over there over 45-50 years ago: when the state said we can no longer afford to keep this many museums and theaters, go earn money yourself. We also had to learn how to raise funds: we have a Board of Trustees, there is a Club of Friends of the Russian Museum too. For concrete projects like exhibitions, children's educational programs, money flows in easier. It’s more difficult however to raise funds for technical equipment, major repairs and restoration. Unfortunately, the country still lacks the understanding that culture is a project of the same level as national security, and it requires appropriate funding.

At the beginning of the XX century, which we discussed before, we were ahead of the whole planet in that sense. The rattle of “Diaghilev Seasons", Tretyakov, Mamontov, Morozov, Kokorev and Svinin were building their collections. Kokorev and Svinin, by the way, almost went bankrupt, however their collections formed the basis of the Russian Museum. These were the same "new Russians"; entrepreneurs, industrialists, merchants, who invested in culture ...

Now, there is no such thing. We hold exhibitions of Russian art abroad at the expense of the host country. On the one hand, it's great that there are funds for exhibiting our national paintings and sculptures. But on the other - whoever pays the piper, picks the tune. To them, Russian art is icons and three Russian avant-gardists: Malevich, Chagall and Kandinsky. Well, perhaps Peredvizhniki too - they were allowed to be exported. Now our task is to reveal the true history and value of Russian art, to break away from the attitude towards it as “catching up” to European and International art. At the expense of the host country, this task isn’t always easy.

The money that the state provides is enough for 2-3 exhibitions, we deliver 40-50 per year, 10-12 of them abroad. And this is a big difference ...

NT: The natives of St.Petersburg are very sensitive to any interference in the historical appearance of the city. Does this bother you, too?
VG: Restoration, construction - it is a very difficult matter. And anyone who takes on to anything something is perceived as a thief who wants to stuff his own pockets, or a vandal which will no double mutilate everything ... We haven’t even begun the restoration of the Summer Garden, but have already been told we’re going to ruin everything. The city has to live, it needs to develop. Maupassant fled from Paris, running away from the Eiffel Tower. And today it’s one of the iconic symbols of the city. Of course, I am not a supporter of the "Moscow" scenario, where a lot of the old Moscow I loved was destroyed. But if everything is to be preserved, in place of the Russian Museum should be a Swedish colonel’s cottage.


The Russian Museum offers a wide range of exhibitions and events, some of the current highlights are:

Ancient Art of XIV-XVII Centuries
Permanent exhibition
“Collection of the Old Russian painting of the Russian Museum is one of the largest and most significant in Russia. It includes around six thousand icons. The permanent exhibition housed in the first four halls of Mikhailovsky Palace represents a part of this collection, the most valuable works of XII-XVII centuries created in the major art centers of Old Russia: Novgorod, Pskov, Vladimir, Suzdal, Moscow, and Yaroslavl.” 

Folk Art of the Nizhny Novgorod Region
21 december 2017—26 march 2018
“The exhibition amasses impressive handiwork by artisans of the Niznny Novgorod Region, including unique pieces of Khokhloma and Gorodets painting, metalware, women costumes, wooden toys, and ceramic ware.” 

Still Life in Photography
1 march—14 may 2018
“Contemporary still life in photography demonstrates a variety of trends and approaches: from homages to classic pompous arrangements à la golden age of still life to the minimalistic elegance of constructivism.”

Alexei and Andreas Jawlensky. Color Adventures
22 february—10 april 2018
“Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) was a contemporary, associate and friend of Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Munter, Paul Klee and many other famous artists, and yet a talented and original painter himself. The work of his son Andreas is less widely known, but nevertheless notable. The exhibition includes more than 20 paintings, documentary and archive materials.”


Русский Музей в Санкт-Петербурге в настоящее время отмечает свой 120-летний юбилей. Основанный в 1898 году, Музей с тех пор стал крупнейшей в мире коллекцией русского искусства, а также уникальным архитектурно-художественным комплексом в историческом центре города Санкт-Петербурга.

Коллекция музея включает около 400 000 экспонатов и охватывает все исторические периоды и тенденции развития русского искусства. Коллекция включает направления и движения более 1000 лет: с X по ХХI век.

Сегодня, Русский музей представляет собой впечатляющий музейный комплекс, а также крупнейший авторитет в области научных исследований и реставрации русского искусства, который курирует работу всех других художественных музеев страны.

Выше представлена ​​переведенная на английский язык версия интервью с директором Русского музея Владимиром Гусевым, проведенным New Times. Переходите по ссылке на оригинальный текст на русском языке.


Русский Музей предлагает широкий спектр выставок и мероприятий, некоторые из текущих выставок:

Древнерусское искусство ХII—XVII веков
Постоянная экспозиция
«Собрание древнерусской живописи Русского музея — одно из самых крупных и значительных в нашей стране. Оно включает в себя около шести тысяч икон. В постоянной экспозиции, размещенной в первых четырех залах Михайловского дворца, представлена часть этой коллекции — наиболее ценные произведения XII–XVII веков, созданные в важнейших художественных центрах Древней Руси: Новгороде, Пскове, Владимире, Суздале, Москве и Ярославле.»

Народное искусство Нижегородского края
21 декабря 2017—26 марта 2018
«Выставка впервые столь полно и всесторонне показывает изделия, выполненные народными мастерами Нижегородского края: уникальные образцы хохломской и городецкой росписи, изделия из металла, комплексы женских костюмов, деревянные игрушки и керамические изделия.»

Натюрморт в фотографии
1 марта—14 мая 2018
«На выставке представлена панорама современного фотографического натюрморта: от оммажей классическим пышным постановкам, отсылающих к золотому веку жанра, до минималистической элегантности конструктивизма.»

Алексей и Андреас Явленские. Приключения цвета
22 февраля—10 апреля 2018
«Более 100 живописных произведений художников, а также документальные и архивные материалы представляют яркую страницу в истории европейской живописи первой половины — середины ХХ века.»

Source: New Times