Museums can’t make sudden steps

Viewer in the context of museum globalization

The seminar was held on 29.05.19



Discussion participants (in speaking order):


Natalia Smolianskaïa — Ph.D., Associate Researcher Paris-8, head of the Place of Art seminar

Tatiana Mrdulyash — Deputy Director-General for Development at the State Tretyakov Gallery (until 2020)

Irina Gorlova — art historian, Head of the Contemporary Art Department at the State Tretyakov Gallery

Amalia Avezdzhanova — independent researcher 

Valeria Pukhovitskaya — Ph.D. student, HSE

Tatiana Mironova — Ph.D. student, HSE; Place of Art project 

Polina Lukina — Ph.D. student, HSE; Place of Art project 

Juliet Sarkisian — independent researcher 


Today, museum monopolies emerge on the Moscow map of art places, such as the Tretyakov Gallery, the Pushkin Museum, Garage, V–A–C foundation, while the artists’ exhibitions move to the urban “periphery”. Such museum institutions have more opportunities to display a wide range of artworks, and various professional research areas are becoming more and more controlled like projects with the local community and “regional art”, research on self-organizations, etc. 


How will these changes affect the cultural situation in Moscow? How will the exhibition policy of large museum institutions change? What kind of viewer do they want to see in museums today? Are viewers under the control of these super-strong institutions? Do contemporary artists strive to “leave institutions”?


For these seminars we invited members of the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum, as well as contemporary artists and curators who deliberately transfer their practices to places unprepared for showing art: forests, fields, vacant lots, abandoned spaces.


During the first seminar, participants discussed the expansion of the Tretyakov Gallery. In 2019, the Tretyakov Gallery got a part of the building on Krymsky Val previously belonged to the Central House of Artists, at the same time the Gallery is actively expanding in the regions opening branches in Kaliningrad, Vladivostok, Samara. How to evaluate the ongoing processes that are not transparent for the art community? How is the capture/cultivation of new territories related to the large museums’ exhibition policy? And where is the viewer's place in the context of institutional expansion?


Natalia Smolianskaïa (N. S.): The question of this series is museum globalization in the context of a viewer's position. What does the viewer feel when museums grow bigger? We are responding to the situation in Moscow, where the two largest institutions (the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum) continue to expand. How will this affect the viewer and the Tretyakov Gallery?


Tatiana Mrdulyash (T. Mr.): More and more institutions that we usually call "museums" reject this term. For example, is Garage a museum or not? Despite the fact that they are called a museum, the Ministry of Culture does not accept that. V–A–C foundation directly tells that they are not a museum, although we think of them as similar to us [Tretyakov gallery. — Ed.].

In Great Britain and the USA there is such a thing as "cultural institutions". They use the same approach for many institutions: historical museums, natural history museums, aquariums, and probably just the tenth number in this list are art museums, which comes first to our mind when we say “museum”. Therefore, the border between different institutions is progressively blurring, and this is a good thing because we got used to saying that a museum is a temple of art. A museum must be open, visitor-oriented, must meet the audience expectations, but at the same time it must change the form of communication with its audience, as well as the areas of its work. Previously, no one in museums tried to organize educational programs, to rethink a concept of public space where one can come and, for example, sit with a laptop, talk with someone. In this case, the museum is becoming a new institution.


We are now in the right place, at the peak of the cultural era because culture plays an increasing role in the economy and social life. In this sense, physical expansion (what we mean by globalization) is a natural process. This is a consequence of the increasing role of museums and culture in the life of every person, of Muscovites. We, cultural workers, are lucky to be at this time and in this place, and, on the one hand, we have a great responsibility for the realization of the cultural project in Russia, and on the other, we have more resources compared to the previous generation of museum workers.


Returning to the problem of globalization, apart from Moscow there is “non-Moscow”: we are planning to develop cultural centers in Vladivostok, Kaliningrad, Sevastopol, Kemerovo. It is a national plan of taking culture to a new level, rather than a museum globalization. It is a unique infrastructure project, which involves building a large museum and theater, a ballet and music school, and a higher educational institution with programs for all these arts in each city. Such infrastructural projects change the life of the region and the whole country because those who are interested in culture will strive to come there, get a job, and bring their projects.


N. S.: “Globalization" in any context means a reduction of a wide variety of different cultures, different ways of expression, consumption, types of behavior to a certain standard. The protests against globalization are mainly related to the violation of cultural uniqueness. A national museum reflects the type of power of the state it represents, so the critics of the government and the state usually manifests itself through the critics of the museum.


T. Mr.: I disagree. Most museums were based on private collections.


N. S.: Of course, but private individuals with their own collections also competed with each other for their collections. Globalization means that we are reducing this institutional diversity to perhaps, a remarkable result, but at the same time to uniformity. Globalization is connected with the state cultural policy since it is determined beyond all by a place which national museums occupy in this culture, i.e. cultural policy is a litmus test that indicates the condition of culture.


Irina Gorlova (I. G.): At first, we talked about how museums are growing, developing, and trying to capture new territories, such as the Guggenheim Museum or the Centre Pompidou, which opened new branches in different places. I thought it was about how a museum is limited by its own territory and how it begins to occupy new ones by propagating its own policy and collection. But this does not mean that museums are achieving one standard.


How then are we similar to the Pushkin Museum? Only by the fact that both the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum more actively include contemporary art in the museum programs. Expanding the collection of the Pushkin Museum with new works of Russian artists helps the museum’s global integration because it establishes an international collection of media art. The Tretyakov Gallery defends the national line. We even discussed whether we should further expand the collections of, for example, Georgian, Kazakhstani, Azerbaijani art which we inherited from the Soviet Union. I think we must continue to explore the artistic processes over the past 30 years in the countries of the former empire, otherwise the history of their art in the Gallery's collection will dissolve against an indistinguishable Soviet background. We have no ambition to collect Western art, so I don't see any unification. 


T. Mr.: It is interesting that for you the word “museum” includes the concepts of power, state, empire. It doesn’t for me.


I. G.: This is historically true for large imperial museums like the British Museum, the Louvre ...


T.Mr.: For the Louvre, yes, the Russian Museum is also imperial, since it started from the emperor’s collection. But the Tretyakov Gallery cannot be called a pro-government museum because it was the initiative of one person [Pavel Tretyakov. — Ed.] who bequeathed his house, collection, and money to the city.


I. G.: It means that now it is all state-owned, so we look back at the state.


T. Mr.: For me, the museum does not even closely connect with these concepts. 


N. S.: This is always the case because it is a question of resources and disposition of power. We will not quote Foucault now because this is already a classic, well-established topic. Museums demonstrate state legacy, the results of conquests and/or the sacred power.


T. Mr.: Regarding unification, you don't have to be a professional to understand that you can't just take the Tretyakov Gallery and move it to Vladivostok.


Amalia Avezdzhanova (A. A.): Perhaps the unification lies in the fact that now the social functions of large museums are expanding and strengthening: family days, inclusive programs are a kind of “Western” model. Museums are deeply involved in this process even in the environmental design: you come and see similar museum spaces.


T. Mr.: What you described can hardly be called globalization. We all respond to social challenges in different ways, each museum develops its own inclusive program. But we still can’t meet the public demand. For example, there are many non-socialized, non-adapted migrants who know nothing and can’t find contact, sometimes even on the language level, with Russian culture. This is not an issue of globalization, but a process in normal society that responds to its needs.


Tatiana Mironova (T. M.): So, as for development of the new branches, is the Tretyakov Gallery responsible for the museums in every city?


T. Mr.: No, it is different for each city: in Kemerovo it is the Russian Museum who is responsible, in Sevastopol there will be an independent institution. We have now established two branches in Vladivostok and Kaliningrad, but Vladivostok will definitely grow into an independent institution because it is impossible geographically to work together. In fact, there are 5 museums that cooperate in Vladivostok: we, the Russian Museum, the Hermitage, the State Museum of Oriental Art and the Primorye State Art Gallery — a stunning museum with an excellent collection that includes masterpieces from the Tretyakov Gallery collection. This gallery is so small that when an exhibit comes to Vladivostok, they have to remove their permanent exhibition to hang the temporary one. Our idea is to work with them to put together a history of Russian art, but leave the gallery in this little historic building.

A. A.: So, this is not a branch network but cooperation between institutions?


T. Mr.: It will be an independent institution. This is something like "who has done a good job?", "who has the best practice?", let's spread it! So, we have the Russian Museum, the Tretyakov Gallery, the Hermitage.


T. M.: “Vladivostok, Sevastopol, Kaliningrad” is quite a representative list of cities. Why move the central giants to these cities?


I. G.: Why not build a new building for the Primorye State Art Gallery with a good storeroom and exhibition halls and thus develop culture?


T. Mr.: That’s right and even in the program it is formulated as involvement of the local professional community. One of the main fears of the local cultural community was that we would suck all the local resources and would not give anything to the city, i.e. we would remain a federal project that landed like an UFO in Chertanovo[1]. We are trying to avoid that and establish contacts with all local cultural figures and institutions. For example, we helped the wonderful Arseniev Museum[2] to get a federal status. This is probably the best local history museum that I have seen in my life. Local institutions there live from hand to mouth, they don’t find contact with the establishment, administration, audience, and therefore they are so small and fragile. We are trying to find the right way to integrate into the local ecosystem. Therefore, this large construction project includes infrastructural elements to solve the institutional problems of the entire Far Eastern region. For example, problems of restoration and storage which are expensive resource-intensive processes that require equipment, premises, specialists... We included in the project large storage facilities that other museums can use as well. For example, founder of the Museum of Modern Art Artetage Alexander Gorodny donated his collection to the city, but the city did not accept it. We are looking for opportunities to help such organizations to store their collections.


I. G.: Wouldn't it be better to build all this for the Primorye State Art Gallery?


T. Mr.: I think it is better to start from scratch. When you continue a project, you inherit all its problems, limitations.


I. G.: But that would be their business.


N. S.: The issue of globalization is not only about what means and methods are now used everywhere. The issue is that the same people with the same opinion work with the entire collection and heritage of Russian art. They believe that Korzhev is a national treasure. The same people go to Vladivostok and make a permanent exhibition and develop cultural policy there.


T. Mr.: But all directors of our regional museums are young and ambitious people. You say that they are the same people, but there are not so many. It only seems that everyone now is striving to work in culture.


N. S.: There will be even fewer of them if job opportunities are not created.


T. Mr.: The goal is to create opportunities there. Now in Moscow people who want to work in culture can more or less fulfil themselves, unlike, for example, in Khabarovsk.


I. G.: The question is, why aren't these people there?


T. Mr.: They are, but you cannot take all the best human resources from local institutions. Why can't local institutions be developed? They can, but then they will be left with their problems.


I. G.: This is an expansion that comes from the center. But why not do all this in museums that already exist? Victor Shalay, director of the Arseniev Museum, has received many awards for making such a museum himself, he is the main cultural hero of the region. Why not find the same people? The museum under the leadership of Shalay grew into a federal museum. Maybe the Primorye State Art Gallery can grow the same way?


T. Mr.: Yes, you can implant it from the outside or grow from the inside. Victor Shalay grew from the inside, but it did not happen in other places, so let's try from the outside. It is not bad if there is an external director. This is a chance for people who work in culture not only in Moscow and not only in the Tretyakov Gallery to think about how to make these museums needed and helpful to the locals.


I. G.: I believe that it is better to develop the environment from the inside. In this sense, the NCCA[3] policy is quite right. There were people who cultivated the environment from the inside. Another thing is that the Nizhny Novgorod branch positioned itself as a Nizhny Novgorod team, but initially, they invited Moscow curators to bring art exhibits, so to show something first and then cultivate the environment. Where people grew up, they became a stronger organism. I feel sorry for our Kaliningrad NCCA branch because now the Tretyakov Gallery is building its branch there, which means that the Kronprinz tower[4] will probably never be restored, and it will unfortunately not become a center of contemporary art. Maybe it would be more logical to complete this project first and then start a new one, but we will be able to show good art and make good projects in the branch, thereby creating culture and contemporary art.


N. S.: It can be done from inside or outside, but it’s still a growing institution where the same people work. There is always a particular collective with particular relationships.

N. S.: The last time I was at the Tretyakov Gallery with my students, we got tired after one hour. It is difficult even for a specialist to go through the Tretyakov Gallery and see the entire exposition, considering that you can’t have a seat or take a snack. Now the museum space is doubling[5], and I doubt that the viewer will be able to see this exposition in one day and not die.


T. Mr.: We do have this unfortunate circle of 38 rooms with no exit, but it is dictated by the specifics of the architecture. There was a mistake during the implementation of the architectural project which does not allow making additional exits. Therefore, our task is to somehow solve this problem, to make separate spaces inside the exposition.


The second point is that everything in the storerooms, at the exhibition halls is our cultural heritage. Therefore, it is wrong to exhibit less. You need to exhibit better and lead the visitor better. Perhaps at the entrance we can offer a path to those who want to go through the Tretyakov Gallery in 40 minutes or the "10 masterpieces" path. But we should allow an avant-garde specialist to spend 5 hours in 3 avant-garde halls, and a Korzhev specialist to spend 2 hours in Korzhev's hall.


I. G.: It's just a matter of zoning. Does the Centre Pompidou show less of its collection?


N. S.: Everything is organized differently there, they have 2 floors for a contemporary collection, that is quite a small area. The areas are separated, there is a lot of space, entrances and exits, and the exhibits change regularly every 3 months.


I. G.: Yes, this is right, we rarely have rotation in the Gallery. We cannot remove the avant-garde or socialist realism from the exhibition because people go to the Tretyakov Gallery for the history of Russian art. Sure, we need to do zoning so that people can enter the halls of the avant-garde or socialist realism separately.


Art history is in a constant struggle and exhibition concepts are changing. For example, art from the 1960s to the 2000s: there is art that developed in the same way as it is still developing within the Union of Artists, and there is another type of art that turned into contemporary art. How to exhibit it? Should we place Roginsky and Bulatov together with Nesterova and Nazarenko, or should we divide them into two different lines? We look from the perspective of contemporary art and understand that we would not show most of the “official” art to the public. But experts of this art say: “The Gallery was created as a painting gallery, and now you are in (referring to Andrey Erofeev's collection), do you want to fill the entire exposition space with «sticks»”[6]? Therefore, it is difficult to find a balance. I hope that when the gallery building becomes a single organism, these zones will be comfortable and understandable to the audience.


T. Mr.: Collection rotation in Russian museums is, of course, a “Western” approach. In the Rijksmuseum, for example, the permanent exhibition does not change so often.


N. S.: That is not a contemporary art museum.


I. G.: We are not a contemporary art museum as well.


N. S.: And this is a question!


I. G.: Because of the heritage that grew out of the Tretyakov collection (Tretyakov of course, created his gallery as a museum of contemporary art), we cannot call the Tretyakov Gallery a museum of contemporary art.


T. Mr.: But we can show contemporary art in a permanent exhibition, this is how the Contemporary Art Department works. The collection of the Contemporary Art Department is difficult to manage because it is hard to select artworks, there is a purchasing commission. But it is important to us that contemporary young artists are represented in our collection. For example, it includes Taus Makhacheva, Aslan Goisum, Irina Korina, and the ZIP group. Our model of collecting is not universal but flexible and highly adaptable. You are right, if the Ministry of Culture tells us to change something, we will adjust to it. If a collector says that she wants her painting to be hung in a dark corner and not under our museum light, then, probably, her work will have to be hung in a dark corner.


I. G.: But it depends on the quality and quantity of the works that she will present. I was very touched and pleased by the words of the director of the Guggenheim Museum. He was asked: "If you are offered the artworks you need but with a set of exhibit conditions, what will you do?". He replied: "We will never be given conditions". Great! But we cannot afford it yet, maybe in 5—10 years, when we have a large fund for purchasing works for the collection and not for filling holes in the ceiling.


At the same time, museum life is very diverse, even state museums cannot make their permanent exhibitions the way they want. For instance, walls could be leaking, and you cannot place a sculpture anywhere you want. Children are having classes, and they need an animalistic sculpture that cannot be removed. In one of the spaces there should be a work by Konchalovsky because we got the collection on the condition that this particular work be in the permanent exhibition.


N. S.: Why can't a national museum, a representative of the authorities such as the Tretyakov Gallery set conditions for the Korzhev’s heirs and grantors? Why should the Gallery have a collection with conditions imposed to it? Why did the wonderful space with a painting of Stalin and Voroshilov and a window view to the sculpture of Peter the Great have to be turned into such a "hut of Baba Yaga"?


I. G.: No matter what we think about Korzhev, he is a part of art history. Many experts, not only Russian ones, consider him a great artist. We do not receive funds from the state for purchasing artworks. When you have a choice to change the exposition for 2 years and get what you think are masterpieces, you accept it.


T. Mr.: I think there is a good reason to return to the question of museum’s power, what kind of resources we have.


N. S.: These are different questions, they do not need to be compared. The question of how power distribution is organized is one thing, and how you as museum employees are free to do something is another.


T. Mr.: I mean power as resources. You say: "You are the Tretyakov Gallery, heirs will do what you say". Our budget last year was 36% from the state and 64% were fund-raised and earned, excluding donations (32% were earned, 32% were fund-raised). We live in a very tough deficit and pressure environment. Only 40% of our salary is provided by the state. If we don’t find funds for the exhibits and don’t earn a profit, then we will have nothing to pay people with. Therefore, purchasing money is a big problem.


Valeria Pukhovitskaya (V. P.): The question is not who gives the money, but who controls the political discourse that is translated through the museum. The museum is the speaker of the state.


T. Mr.: I disagree with you. The museum is very autonomous in making decisions.


V. P.: It accepts this discourse anyway. You keep an exhibition that shows the entire history of Russian art, you even use these words: you are talking about "Russian art"[7] and not the art of Russia.


T. Mr.: "Russian art" is a term in art history. 


V. P.: Yes, in art history this colonial term is accepted. 


T. Mr.: It's not colonial, it's just a term. Russian art includes a wide variety of artists.


N. S.: In terms of discourse, this is definitely a colonial term.


V. P.: It is impossible to deny that politics exist here because it does in all spheres.


T. Mr.: I think that you can make an analogy with universities. You as university also use state funds but nevertheless the state can build a system that will allow “different flowers to bloom”. No matter how people from the Ministry of Culture may treat contemporary art, they still donate money to the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.


N. S.: Because this is a manifestation of power. Money is invested in the Biennale so that everyone will understand that the Biennale is connected with this system of power.


I. G.: Not really. The state started to invest in contemporary art because many people had to convince authorities that contemporary art is important, prestigious, and needs to be supported. Medinsky [Former Minister of Culture. — Ed.] and officials would have gladly canceled the Manifesta in St. Petersburg. Everyone said: “How can you be a member of the expert council of “Putin's” Manifesta?”, “How can Kasper König supervise it?”. On the contrary, I thought that the Manifesta should be supported because contemporary art was given the opportunity to enter the Hermitage. Even now, no one gives money to the Venice Biennale. Even now, in the Tretyakov Gallery we are forced to prove that this is art, and it has the right to be hung with Nesterova, Nasipova, Nazarenko and Kantor.


T. Mr.: But luckily, we have to prove this only to our art historian co-workers. If the Tretyakov Gallery needs to purchase Bulatov or Kuzkin’s artworks then the Ministry of Culture does not interfere.


I. G.: We are afraid that ideological control will begin. But nobody imposed on us Korzhev, Nesterova, Nazarenko’s artworks, it was a professional decision by the people who work in the museum.


Tatiana Mironova (T. M.): How will extending the territory of the Central House of Artists entail qualitative changes? Will it lead to the expansion of the publishing program or to an increase in exhibition space? Or will it be just an extension of the permanent exhibition?


T. Mr.: This building was originally planned as a unit, and seeing from a historical perspective its merger is the only possible option.

Even though it is 20 thousand square meters we have not received state financial support. The building was in poor condition when we got it, we had to remove 25 tons of garbage (which also required money). The building has neither alarm nor climate systems, and is not suitable to be a museum. We raise and invest all the funds ourselves which is a hell of an investment for one organization. Not to mention that museum activities require mediators, administrators, engineers, etc. 


We have a plan to close this building for renovation in 2022. The Gallery currently does not have the funds and abilities to maintain this building in its current condition. We want to keep it, reconstruct it and show how beautiful the architecture of Soviet modernism is. We wanted to call this part of the building the "Laboratory" (but in the end we decided on "West Wing") since we want to try new museum formats in this space.


I. G.: The Union of Artists keeps the 3rd floor for their exhibits. We only have the second floor with the most complex space, which is almost impossible to maintain without funding. Only if doing it as Kulik once brilliantly did with video art[8].


The Central House of Artists wasn’t taken over because getting it before the reconstruction wasn’t profitable to the Tretyakov Gallery. On the other hand, this compelled policy returns the CHA to its former glory, where the most experimental projects were carried out with art world stars in the late 80s — early 90s. This forced step now allows us to make such bold experiments.


T. Mr.: In September, we plan to open both the permanent exhibitions and exhibits of the Design Museum; at the end of October — the main project of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. It will be the territory of contemporary art not from the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery.


N. S.: What will happen to contemporary art, with the activities of the Contemporary Art Department during such spatial development of the Tretyakov Gallery?


I. G.: The Contemporary Art Department’s space is not increasing because we cannot show our collection in this new space due to its poor conditions. After the reconstruction, we will make a large exhibition with separate periodic blocks and large installations. Now, as far as possible, we will attract partners to do contemporary art projects at the CHA site, after which we will receive artworks for our collection.

N. S.: The more you expand the institution, the more you reproduce the same approach. Moreover, we do not have a tradition of changing the exhibitions or inviting other curators. Where are the invited curators who organize exhibits of contemporary art at the Tretyakov Gallery?


T. Mr.: The last example is the gift of the Winzavod[9] curated by Nikolay Palazhchenko[10].


I. G.: But it wasn’t a large exhibit. For example, Viktor Misiano curated Natalia Turnova’s exhibit[11]. I hope we will get the last exhibit of the Human Condition project also made by Misiano. We receive applications mostly from artists. We invite curators if they offer projects, we are always open to suggestions. For instance, we had an application from Andrey Erofeev for Aladdin Garunov’s exhibit, which did not get a pass from the exhibition committee. Not due to the curator's figure but to the specifics of the project. The only problem is that if there is no special funding for the project, we cannot pay the curator’s fee. We do not make state-supported shows and do not have an exhibition budget. If there is a sponsor, then there will be a fee for the invited curator.


N. S.: So, for now, you don’t have invited curators.


I. G.: Because everything is already planned, but we are open to suggestions.


T. Mr.: We do not receive applications from curators. Many of them also say: "Give me a budget, collect all the works, and your exhibition department will also work for me". Are there many curators who are willing to work for such institutions as the Tretyakov Gallery?


I. G.: There are curators, but no tradition. The Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA) does not have curators, and they accept applications for curatorial projects. It didn't work out here, but the Tretyakov Gallery is open to suggestions. If there is an idea for an exhibition, the sponsorship department will be happy to seek the funds. There is rather a lack of open information.


N. S.: Should there be two Tretyakov Galleries? Is there an option to separate them?


T. Mr.: No. When we talk about what we show at the Lavrushinsky Lane and what we show at the New Tretyakov Gallery, controversy arises: where should we show the Blue Rose group? And what about Goncharova and Larionov? From what particular moment should we divide the collection?


N. S.: The result is a large organization that is subordinate to one management. I do not always understand the choice for bestseller exhibits like Aivazovsky, Repin, Serov, and especially De Chirico's exhibit[12]. It is strange to imagine that the Centre Pompidou will suddenly show Watteau. 


I. G.: You don't approve that all art from ancient Russian to contemporary be presented in one museum?


N. S.: Yes, everything is blurred. Both Vereshchagin and Monastyrski are in the same building.


I. G.: This has happened historically. And speaking about the division, the Tretyakov Gallery was nationalized after the Revolution, so if we go with the division from this year, the Tretyakovs’ city gallery will remain at the Lavrushinsky Lane, but the Tretyakov Gallery will never give the Black Square to Lavrushinsky Lane, although it was made before the Revolution.


T. Mr.: On the one hand, you are talking about unification and expansion, and on the other, you are trying to set a rigid framework.


N. S.: It is not rigid because we cannot show everything in the museum.


I. G.: It would be a pity to divide the collection because I want to show exhibits with artworks from the old Tretyakov Gallery, I want to use the territory of Lavrushinsky Lane. Although I logically understand that there is a museum of historical art, and there is a museum that starts from the avant-garde and goes to contemporaneity. There are two organisms, but since it happened historically it is unrealistic to separate them. It is the same if you take the Egyptian collection from the Louvre and give it to Egypt. Who should decide that? The Louvre employees? And what to do with Soviet paintings? Should it be given to the old Tretyakov Gallery? Or we should divide the collection into 3 museums: the museum of avant-garde and contemporary art, the museum of Soviet art and the museum of Russian art?


N. S.: This is artificial because after you divide, there will come others who say that this is wrong.


T. M.: I think that Soviet art and "other" art should not be separated.


I. G.: You just don’t know how much this “other” art is drowning in the stream of Soviet art, there are pearls in this pile of ... other jewels. Everyone says that socialist realism continues the tradition of 19th century art. I think we find this continuation more in conceptual and contemporary art: there were people engaged in political, social issues. After all, it is interesting to make an exhibit of The Itinerants through contemporary art.


N. S.: After the exhibit Rouge. Art et utopie au pays des Soviets[13] at the Grand Palais my friend said: "I was at the wonderful Agamben's lecture". I asked: “What could Agamben say about Soviet art?”. It turned out that he repeated the same thesis that the art of The Itinerants later transferred into the socialist realism, i.e. he repeated the typical cliché of Soviet art history.


T. Mr.: Returning to the question of the division of the museum, we look at the Tretyakov Gallery differently, from the inside. For us, it is a gentle, living, and complex organism. Therefore, we can plan a development, set a perspective for 10 years, but it is important not to break what has been done before us. What miraculously survived through all the revolutions, divisions and squandering of the collection was not easily obtained by the museum. That some art is worthy of being in the collection or that some specialists should not build up the collection are such harsh judgments. These are too drastic and sudden steps that the museum, thank God, can’t make. 


T. M.: Two points of view on the work of the Tretyakov Gallery (from outside and inside) — are they so different, is there a chance to produce a critical dialogue?


A. A.: I think that we all look from the outside and fill in the blanks for each other. From your side, everything is completely different, it differs from what we imagined the work of the museum to be. This is the main value for me: we used to imagine the motivation of the museum in a more complex way, but it turns out that everything is simpler and rests on very specific things.


Polina Lukina (P. L.): It is about the problem of natural transparency, we do not have an active platform for a dialogue between the audience, museums, and professionals. This is a common symptom of our cultural policy. Another point that is also related to the cultural policy is the tendency towards extensive development when intensive development is not yet finished. Usually, when a structure expands, it means that it is already a working debugged mechanism. As we have found out, the Tretyakov Gallery has many unresolved problems inside that hinder its activity.


I. G.: But they can be solved, this is a development factor!


P. L.: Yes, and when they are solved, it is logical to develop the institution extensively. These budgets are needed by the Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val, they may help to quickly implement all tasks. But this is a problem of cultural policy and the state in general: to carry out an extensive development while ignoring internal problems.


V. P.: I agree with my colleagues. The problems we are discussing are not only the problems of cultural policy, but of the policy of the Russian Federation, they are the same in different spheres. They arise without critical discourse.


T. Mr.: I'm sorry that you got the impression that the Tretyakov Gallery has many problems. We exposed them as an example when you addressed us as "you are a large institution and can do anything". No, not anything, but we try to do the best we can. Everyone who is now working in the cultural sphere is working in a unique time. Culture is developing at a rapid pace, both with private money and with state funds. I think that our contemporary artists look good on a global level, our art is very interesting. Now is a time of opportunity and a time of development. As the English say, if you think that all the problems have been solved, then you are not moving fast enough.


I. G.: There are two important issues. First, the necessity to divide the gigantic museum (the Tretyakov Gallery) into several parts, which is logical, but we are used to the current museum. When I went to work at the Tretyakov Gallery, it was interesting to me because I understood that I would now be engaged in contemporary art as part of a general art history. I am interested in finding these points of intersection, collisions which show the continuity of different art periods in contemporary Russian art. I like that I'm inside the Tretyakov Gallery.


The second issue is the expansion. This is not only the Tretyakov Gallery’s policy but a global one, connected to money: when there are funds — blockbuster exhibits of Repin, Surikov, Aivazovsky are made. People come to such exhibits, they are in demand because it is easier to immerse yourself in the art of one artist than in the Someone 1917[14] exhibit which shows a whole layer of different artists, or the The Thaw (Ottepel) exhibit which covers an entire era.


N. S.: I am very grateful that you sincerely shared with us your problems and your attitude towards them. This is already wonderful because if we start a critical dialogue, then it is a sign that nothing’s lost. But there are still many problems, and the main one is the problem of the viewer. What is happening to the viewer, and why is a certain point of view imposed on them?


The second problem is a critical field of art which is created through critical dialogue. You were absolutely right saying that this is not a transparent situation. It is in everything and everywhere: who will manage the pavilion at the Venice Biennale is never discussed, which artists will represent Russia, who and how will they make a certain project? The cultural space replicates the existing system of power. I wish this situation could change and a critical field for dialogue could be created.


1. This is a reference to the Fyodor Bondarchuk’s sci-fi film Attraction (2017) about the extraterrestrial spaceship crash-landing in the Chertanovo district of Moscow.


2.Vladimir K. Arseniev Museum of Far East History.


3. NCCA (National Center for Contemporary Art) is a Russian art center with a regional branch network in 8 Russian cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, Tomsk and Vladikavkaz. In 2019 NCCA became a part of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (except the Saratov branch). In 2020 NCCA’s Central Volga branch in Samara was closed.  


4.Kronprinz tower is a 19th century historical monument in Kaliningrad that was supposed to become a building for the Baltic NCCA branch. As of 2021, the monument is under restoration, and the final decision on its owner has not been made yet. 


5.In 2019, the space of the Central House of Artists on Krymsky Val became part of the Tretyakov Gallery, so the whole building was united as a single museum complex.


6.At the beginning of 2020 the Tretyakov Gallery purchased the Andrei Monastyrski’s Branch with funds from the Gallery endowment which caused a great public outcry.


7. In Russian language there are two words that translate into English as “Russian”. One describes something that belongs to an ethnic group (russkiy, русский) and the other means something related to a Russian Federation as a state (rossiyskiy, российский). 


8. In 2007, the Central House of Artists hosted the exhibition Oleg Kulik. Chronicle. 1987—2007, which occupied the whole CHA’s building. The House of Artists was draped with black polyethylene that visually reduced the scale of the exhibition space. The entire fourth floor of the CHA was occupied by Kulik's video artworks, which were broadcasted on the walls as large-format projections.


9.Winzavod is a private contemporary art center in Moscow with art galleries, workshops, cafés, show rooms etc.


10. Exhibition New young artists in the New Tretyakov Gallery. Gift of Vinzavod was held at the New Tretyakov Gallery from 14.04.18 to 30.06.18.


11. Exhibition Natalia Turnova. Silent was held at the New Tretyakov Gallery from 10.10.18 to 25.11.18.


12. Exhibition Giorgio de Chirico. Metaphysical insights was a joint project of the Tretyakov Gallery and the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico. The exhibition was held at the New Tretyakov Gallery from 20.04.17 to 23.07.17.


13. Exhibition Red. Art and utopia in the land of Soviets was held from 20.03.19 to 01.07.19 at the Grand Palais (Paris). More about the exhibition: https://www.grandpalais.fr/en/event/red


14. Someone 1917 was a large-scale exhibit about year 1917 as a breaking point in Russian history. The exhibit was held at the New Tretyakov Gallery from 28.09.17 to 14.01.18.


15. Exhibition The Thaw about the historical period from 1953 to 1968 was held at the New Tretyakov Gallery from 16.02.17 to 11.06.17.