The new museum — the Museum of Painterly Culture — according to Kandinsky, arose from "a new path in museum construction". The foreground is "a certain principle and system in accordance with a single common goal":
“This single and common goal is the desire to show the development of art not in a chaotic historical sequence, but in the sequence and strict continuity of the development of art from two sides:
1. From the side of new contributions in the purely artistic field, that is, so to speak, from the side of the invention of new artistic techniques, and
2. From the side of the development of purely artistic forms, regardless of their content, that is, so to speak, from the side of craft in art" .
Demonstrating continuity was not based only on similarities. The genealogical attitude constituted the differences and was corrected by the same differences. Therefore, along with dividing the art of the past into relatively homogeneous units (trends, styles, schools), museum practices are accompanied by oblivion, erasure, and bracketing of everything that reminds of historical approaches.
In this context, the ambiguity in regard to the national cultural heritage is noteworthy. On the one hand, the genealogy pointed to the Western, primarily French, roots of the Russian artistic avant-garde and on the other hand, the explicit demonstration of an identity rooted in its tradition, clean and kept independent. Correcting the genealogy, which referred to the archaic (icon, lubok) and purging the tradition (excommunication of the Itinerants) were not enough.
Demonstrating exclusively national heritage in the halls of new museums was thought to be a clear proof of the elective relationship. Stating the separation of "friends" from "foes", Alexander Rodchenko undoubtedly expressed a conviction shared by many:
“You cannot mix French painterly culture with Russian, since Russian painting goes its own way, only we stubbornly do not want to see it, do not value it and pray to the Westernizers. Combining paintings by Russian painters with the Shchukin and Morozov museums means subscribing to our own failure, to close our past, which is as rich as the French, and every art in general. First of all, it is necessary to distinguish that Russian painting has no continuity from the West, and if the West is reflected in it, then this is only a minus for the essence of Russian painting.
We go our own way, and our painting differs so much from the West that it is both mediocre and sinful to lump it together. [...] The tasks pursued in the Western and the Eastern art are completely different, and it cannot be compared with each other. […] Our admirers of Western easel painting make a deep mistake, closing their eyes and suppressing their own, which is peculiar to us. This, by the way, is generally a characteristic of Russians — not to see their beauty and to worship the West, which has already fallen apart and has become obsolete" .
There were no objections from the Russian avant-garde artists. Until the final closure, museums of art and painterly culture preserved "their own beauty".
THE FIGHT OF GENEALOGIES
The attitude of the Soviet government towards contemporary art museums appears to be a special topic that requires a detailed narrative.
It is well known that Lenin, Krupskaya, Stalin, and the party functionaries around them disliked "left" art. The People's Commissar A. V. Lunacharsky, who at first patronized avant-garde artists, ended up soon joining the "general line" of the ruling party. However, during the formation of the “artists’ museum”, Lunacharsky was complacent:
“Of course, such a museum is needed for the people. Such a museum will show the evolution of labor in the field of art. But where, in this case, will we put the art which reflects human culture, the autobiography of the human race? Such museums are of the same importance as museums of painterly culture. When organizing museums, one should not forget either one or the other.
The artist understands the artistic past, but is always fanatical and biased. The artist searches the past only for his ancestors; therefore, he does not see organic growth. In museum studies, however, the broadest view is needed; here objectivity is required. For a museum, all human achievements are equal. The museum should be a garden in which all flowers should grow. If we adhere exclusively to the point of view of painterly culture, then such museums would have to be rebuilt every five years because each group of artists looks at this culture differently" .
Indeed, the point of view of another group of artists, who were treated kindly by the authorities and became the founders of socialist realism, viewed art and culture differently. Museums for which “all human achievements are equal” and where “all flowers should grow” were no longer mentioned. The Manichean dualism of party ideology abolished the very territory of artistic experiment. A different genealogy was established for the avant-garde, which referred to the “accursed past”: to petty-bourgeois individualism, anarchism and decadence.
The subsequent demonization of the artistic avant-garde, the removal of its traces from museum expositions, the fierce struggle against “formalism” and “degenerate art” looks like a parody of the avant-garde own logic. Once upon a time, regarding the first approaches to the project of the museum of contemporary art, Nikolay Punin had announced: “You cannot build a common museum. It is a stillborn enterprise. You need to take only what you need”.
A few years later, in the late twenties, the legacy of the avant-garde turned out to be "unnecessary". For many decades, it was swallowed up in historical oblivion.
Translated by Tatiana Mironova
1. Here and throughout we will use the translations “modern artists”, “modern museum” and “modernity” with the permission of the author. Evgenii Barabanov: “The word 'modern' did not have strictly terminological meaning and did not indicate the common oppositions such as modern/avant-garde, modern/postmodern, avant-garde/neo-avant-garde. So, modern was understood as the new, left, and revolutionary which confronted the old, academic, bourgeois”.
4. Vlasova T. V. From the history of the artistic life of revolutionary Moscow: the activities of the All-Russian Central Exhibition Bureau (1918 — 1921) // Soviet art history. 1988. Issue. 23. P. 317 (in Russian).
7. The Declaration is given in extracts; full text: the Art of the Commune newspaper (1919, No. 11, February 16) and the book Museum in Museum. Russian avant-garde from the collection of the Museum of Painterly Culture in the collection of the State Russian Museum. SPb.: Palace Editions, 1998. P. 352—353 (in Russian).
8. In the Collegium on the Arts and Arts Industry // Art of the Commune, 1919, № 8, January 19. P. 4; for the commentary see: Krusanov A. V. Russian avant-garde 1907—1932 (Historical review). In three volumes. Vol. 2. The Futuristic Revolution (1917—1921). Book 1. M.: NLO, 2003. P. 691 (in Russian).