March 30, 2022
We have the word county in our dictionary today. Advertisement for Russian culture. People are forced to cut ties with cultural institutions in Russia. At the same time, it seems, including from officials, that this is short-sighted and unfair.
There is another word that applies to the situation – “siege”. The attempt to prevent the activities of our museums and theaters is obvious. This activity has always been a cultural offensive that many in the West did not like. Such an attack – a manifestation of “soft power” – created a beautiful image of Russia. And in our country, some of it is annoying. Today, the Russian press sometimes writes more gloatingly about what is happening in Western culture.
What is a blockade, we know very well. In a time of siege, the tunes are not silent. We have experience with how to communicate through the siege loop. We must try so as not to close the loop and not to enter apartheid – another word that applies to the situation.
I used this word in a letter to my fellow museum directors. Once I was interested in the Black Panther organization, read Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, and others. Black American nationalists came to the conclusion that the black and white communities should live separately. During the time of the Soviet Union, the two worlds lived separately, each according to its own principles. When perestroika began, active international cultural ties arose, and apartheid, the separate existence of different cultures, ceased.
Today we have to hear: that’s fine, now we’re going to live a great life ourselves. We’re going to have a great life, probably to hate everyone. But it is interesting to live through interaction. Culture is almost our only absolute advantage. You can destroy a lot – the economy, the ideology … In culture, we assert ourselves, this should be widely broadcast.
Hermitage is a French word. The museum has always been cosmopolitan, and still is. We have explained many times that there is a concept of a global Hermitage orbit. If the situation changes, our events move from one point to another. From London to Kazan, from Las Vegas to Amsterdam, from there to Italy, then to Yekaterinburg …
There is the Hermitage and the world around it. We are interested everywhere, with the same requirements for the places where the museum comes, whether it is Paris or Novosibirsk … There are several of our centers in Russia: Hermitage-Omsk, Hermitage-Kazan, Hermitage-Yekaterinburg … We are discussing the creation of an archaeological center Cultural “Hermitage-Kavkaz” in Nalchik. There is talk of the Hermitage in Orenburg.
A problem arose in Europe – we will be more active elsewhere. There are few museums like the Hermitage in the world, it should appear as a global presence in various forms. Hermitage days are held in dozens of places. In Europe, it will not be for obvious reasons, but in addition to Russia, it is planned in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and China.
Covid affected exhibition activities. If we take the cultural field, what is happening in it now are complications after Covid. We know what to do. In the past two years, a blueprint has been drawn up on how to maintain bridges of culture. I say endlessly that it is necessary. Some agree, some don’t. Politicians have their tasks, and the military has theirs. Culture should not be turned into a weapon of war. There are different points of view on this issue. We are firmly convinced that the legacy of the great Russian culture should be a means of cultivating national dignity, and not a means of malice.
Opening up is a form of attack. Our openness was not liked by many on both sides of the border. Russians seem to flaunt their great culture – the legacy of Russian imperialism. And here it is disturbing why things are brought to Europeans, rather than displayed in the outback. We show it there too. One does not interfere.
The current post-COVID situation revealed an abscess of rage. Cultural communication is therapy. It is necessary not to sow anger, but it is necessary to relieve post-COVID stress – psychosis, nervousness, anger. We have learned how to create projects that bring peace and relaxation to people.
The world has not converged in two or three places in Europe. Let me remind you: for ten years now we have not had a museum exchange with the United States. All because he is deprived of issuing guarantees to return things, regardless of the lawsuits. Only special groups came to us.
We have continued and are still working in several areas.
The other day I spoke at a seminar in Abu Dhabi, where an agreement was signed with the Institute of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Geographical Society on the restoration of the Arc de Triomphe in Palmyra. History is not easy. Syria is under sanctions. UNESCO discusses the restoration project, but it is coldly treated. Several years ago, my call to set up an international company to save antiquities in Syria, although there was an echo, was deferred each time. We’ve found ways to participate in re-bypassing sanctions.
The restoration of architectural monuments is a delicate matter. As soon as we arrive, there are shouts: the Russians will do everything wrong. Therefore, the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Hermitage Museum began the search for the Palmyra Arch, where each fallen pebble is described. By the way, the arch was restored by the French earlier. Lots of things were done wrong. Pictures show rebar and concrete. Now the project will be considered first by the international committee that includes Syrians, representatives of UNESCO and leading experts in restoration. If approved, the project will be handed over to the Syrian government and then to UNESCO. When we find a way to gain plaudits and appreciation, he will begin to act according to all the rules and principles of restoration.
In addition, the Hermitage Museum receives Syrian restorers for training and assistance in restoring the devastated Syrian relief. If these inscriptions were brought to the Hermitage, it would have been a cry that the antiquities of Syria are being stolen. Therefore, the inscriptions are transferred to Oman, and restorers work with them there.
Showing our openness is a delicate act of diplomacy. The Institute of Material Culture conducted a survey of Syrian antiquities, paying special attention to Christian antiquities. We may participate in the restoration of Syrian frescoes. A line of interaction and action is being built in the conditions of war in Syria. This is an example of “soft power” and how bridges must be maintained.
Another line that needs to be developed in the current conditions is the latest technology. We have announced that the first phase of the Great Hermitage project has been completed: open storage facilities and Hermitage Centers have been established, and the Museum has become a venue for public events.
We begin the next stage, which we call “Heavenly Hermitage”, a museum with the latest technology. Lots of things will happen without the real things moving. It is elegant and beautiful.
The Hermitage held the NFT auction on time and in an interesting way, opening the first virtual exhibitions “in tow”. We are now working on setting up an exhibition in China. The model was a small “virtual Hermitage”, which we showed in Belgorod last winter: the facade of the museum, inside in virtual reality are some things from the Hermitage. There will be a big fair in China. We have a 3D story experience about Winter Palace, General Staff. This is a way of working in post-COVID conditions, when the borders are closed, it is almost impossible to export art. The latest technology allows you to overcome limitations. I think we will continue. There is talk of similar projects in China, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
The other day, the Hermitage opened an exhibition – a study of the Florentine bust of the Renaissance. The workshop of Andrew Verrocchio, where outstanding artists worked, primarily Leonardo da Vinci, is under study. Sculptures were supposed to have arrived from Italy, which were supposed to have been touched by Leonardo’s hand. It will not come, but a copy made using modern technologies, and our sculpt will be presented, the participation of which can also be suspected of Leonardo’s participation.
We have an exhibition on the archaeological discoveries of the Bosphorus. It is dedicated to the great archaeologist and historian of antiquity Mikhail Rostovtsev. There is an important aspect to this day. Rostovtsev was a specialist in antiquity, worked in Syria, wrote a lot about Palmyra. In 1918 he traveled abroad and became a prominent historian of antiquity. It is one of Russia’s gifts to the world.
The exhibition tells about the ancient heritage of Russia. It turns out that not only in Italy and Greece, but also in our country. We are the direct heirs of the ancient culture, which means that we are part of Europe. We have experience in combining Scythian and ancient cultures.
This year is dedicated to the cultural heritage of Russia. Museums will study heritage in terms of diversity and interaction. The Russian experience itself is a gift to the world. People feel empowered when they can give gifts.
The article was published in the “St. Petersburg Vedomosti” newspaper No. 56 (7139) on March 30, 2022 under the title “Cultural Communication as Medicine”.