They are trying to make Russian art a player in the big game

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How to take out exhibits of Russian museums

An article appeared in the French newspaper Marianne under the catchy headline “Russian Painting in France: Morozov’s Collection in Hostages.” “Paintings from the Morozov collection exhibited at the Louis-Vuitton Foundation in Paris will remain in France during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and will serve as an unspoken guarantee of protection for French people living in Russia,” the newspaper said.

Such an initiative with an exciting political connotation seems to suggest that the French are going to make the Russian collection a “bargaining chip” in political “chess”, the subject of bargaining, another sanction. So can the Morozov exhibition in Paris become a “hostage” – the new “gold of the Scythians”, arrested in the Netherlands in 2014? Fiction!

To be convinced of this, it is enough to read the article by Emmanuel Schwarzenberg at least to the second paragraph. The author of the French newspaper, at first exposing himself to fire, immediately refutes himself. He cites the opinion of the lawyer Olivier Fournol, who specializes in the art market: “France is obliged to return these paintings, and in perfect condition.” And this is true, you can’t just take and take away the collection of another state. And not only in France – in Spain, Italy and Britain, where masterpieces from domestic collections are also on display now – Russian art will not be able to be “held hostage”.

Our things on European soil are protected by international conventions and very specific “protection treaties”. No one is going to break them. The preservation of the collection of the Pushkin Museum was personally confirmed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who a few months earlier inaugurated the Morozov exhibition at the Louis-Vuitton Foundation. The French firm’s withdrawal from the Russian market and high-profile headlines should not affect these commitments. Another thing is the problem of logistics. Here and the truth – out.

How to pick up our things from France, Spain, Italy and Britain when the roads are blocked? How will the Hermitage take Picasso, Titian and 23 other paintings out of Italy? You can’t just send pictures home by random transport. Transportation is handled by a special transport company, which is registered in the agreement on the international exhibition. How to restructure logistics in a new geopolitical situation? What seas-oceans to carry Russian masterpieces? And most importantly – who will pay for it? The contracts of our museums with the West state that transportation is paid for by the host party. In the case of the Morozov collection, the French. Are they willing to pay several times more for the return of Russian art than expected? Or should the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation bear the costs? That’s what is being decided now – the economy.

Picasso’s “Young Lady” from the Hermitage collection is still in Italy. Photo:

There is another important practical aspect. A specific custodian is responsible for each collection. On the tour of the project, he comes with the items, checks everything, puts things on record. The same specialist must take the meeting back. Count everything again, fill in the “acceptance”, make sure that everyone is packed and shipped. This procedure is also fixed in any exhibition contract. Attention, question: how does the keeper get to point X in the conditions of “closed sky”? Again – who will pay for a flight that has risen several times?

But it will all be solved somehow. The more serious problem is not economics, but psychology. The noise in the French press is about what they say “in the kitchen.” Ukraine suddenly entered every house, and even those who did not know before that such a country, joined the discussion of the “agenda”. We live in a history textbook – and history is made by people. And here as in a communal house – opinions and reactions across the edge. The human factor. For example, Walter Smerling, chairman of the Bonn Arts and Culture Foundation (Bonn), either out of emotion or hype (wanted to play a hero or serve?), Sent an angry letter to Tretyakov demanding the return of the exhibition “Diversity. Unity ». Tretyakov answered – no problem, take it. But how to carry something? The exhibition was eventually extended until March 13. At the same time, German publications responded to Smerling’s gesture, to put it mildly, ambiguously. Walter Smerling has “opaque business and political ties” and “pretends to carry out a public mission,” local media reported. Not so long ago, about 650 prominent German cultural figures opened an open letter against the Kunsthalle Berlin (a private art space at Tempelhof Airport, open to public funds). To quote: “Walter Smerling is leading a program in which art is used to turn public money into private activities for network entrepreneurs and politicians. At the same time, it is a way to “improve” the reputation of dubious corporations related to armaments, real estate and the oil and gas industry. We cannot rule out the possibility of involvement (Smerling) in money laundering and tax fraud, because they lack even a drop of transparency. (…) Smerling holds major private exhibitions on behalf of Germany and enjoys the support of high-ranking politicians, from former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to former Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller, former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Federal President Frank-Walter Stein.

Another “kitchen” scandal is brewing around the collection of the Russian Museum in Malaga, Spain. There were also those who offered to play in Russia at the expense of the only European branch of the Russian Museum, which occupies the building of a former tobacco factory. Now there are four exhibitions. The fate of the collection of the Russian Museum was discussed at a meeting of the mayor of Malaga. The Socialist Party proposed to evict the Russian Museum, but the opinion of the mayor and the logic of the majority outweighed. The branch works as it worked – exhibitions until April 24, according to the plan. In Italy, where Kandinsky is shown, everything is calm – in the homeland of the Renaissance, fortunately, no one thinks to win back the legendary avant-garde.

And yet they are trying to make art a figure in the great game of chess that is being played out now. Peter Tchaikovsky, Dmitry Shostakovich, and Anton Chekhov were banned in Poland. Almost like Wagner once did in Israel. Gergiev was “etched” from all foreign scenes. The Samovar restaurant in New York is being boycotted, and it doesn’t matter that the owner is Ukrainian, and Russian cuisine and style exist by themselves as a cultural phenomenon. The “human factor” is destructive. And here’s more – the division of culture into ours and yours begins. To whom will we give Malevich, a native of Kiev, who made a name for himself in Moscow? Whose Marc Chagall? And Burlyuk? And let’s not turn art into a kitchen quarrel. Culturally.

Published in the newspaper “Moscow Komsomolets” №28741 dated March 14, 2022

Newspaper headline:
Kitchen quarrel around Russian art

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