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Savitsky Art Museum – the precious heritage keeper

The museum was named after its founder, artist and ethnographer Igor Savitsky, who had been collecting unique pieces of art all over the Soviet Union for 17 years. Along with avant-garde, Savitsky Art Museum also has the samples of Uzbekistan’s fine art, applied art of Karakalpakstan, the art of ancient Khorezm, added by amazing copies of Louvre’s exhibits.
Even famous Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow recognize they have reasons to envy the Nukus Museum’s collection. The English newspaper Guardian called this museum ‘one of the finest in the world’. The museum got similar appraisal by Albert Gore and Jacques Chirac. The museum’s director Marinika Babanazarova who has been looking after this unique collection with the team of museum experts and restorers, shared the history of the museum, its plans and news.
- Marinika Maratovna, how many exhibits does today's museum collection list?
- Today, the collection lists over 85,500 exhibits. They are not only works of avant-gardists of the beginning of the 20th century, but also an applied art Karakalpaks, archeological items, paintings of the Karakalpak artists. Unfortunately, the display area we have now allows us to expose only 3 % of the whole collection. However, last year the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan S.Mirziyaev signed the resolution to develop the design-budget documentation for the construction of the second and third blocks of the museum’s new building. Now the Tashkent architects headed by the main architect of UzShaharSozlik Tashkent Project Institute Sutyagin work on this project, and we hope it will be ready by this autumn, and then the construction will start. The new building will consist of three huge bulks; they will host the second storehouse for exhibits and additional exhibition bulk in addition to the present exposition. Now the museum has only old building and first bulk of the new building built in 2003. As for the storehouse for exhibits, now we temporarily use the building of the former Executive Committee of the City Soviet of People's Deputies adapted for this purpose.
- It is hard to keep exhibits in a proper state? After all, you have thousands of them…
- Certainly, it is hard, especially in our sharply continental climate and in the absence of modern system of the climate control in the museum which would help us to keep certain temperature in premises and to preserve pictures from heat and cold. But it is necessary to tell, that our personnel consists of the keepers with an impressive work experience who are devoted to their work, they are skilled restorers. Together we try to do everything possible and impossible to keep the collection in a worthy state.
All exhibits are stored separately, each graphic work, for example, is wrapped up in a special silk paper, we have winter-summer split-systems established almost in each room, we keep the precise tracking of all exhibits. Currently, we are working on the museum’s electronic catalogue. The numerous state commissions and experts from abroad noticed that the museum did a huge work.
- Do you involve foreign experts in restoration works or use your own resources?
- When the Soviet Union dissolved, the best museum restorers remained in Moscow and in Leningrad. Museums of the CIS sent the artworks to Moscow or invited restorers so that they worked for them some time. By that moment our experts had time to be trained at the Moscow School of Restoration and successfully applied received knowledge. We also started cooperating with the European restorers from France, Germany, Bulgaria and other countries; they came to us for some time and helped to restore pictures. Thus, over 56 art works were restored, and the main thing is that our restorers acquired knowledge to work with modern restoration materials. Now they work using knowledge and Russian and European schools. We are so proud of our team.
Besides, the museum is helped by Club of the Museum’s Friends, embassy of Germany, Switzerland, France, etc. and other states in Uzbekistan; they send us rare restoration materials from Europe. Thus, we manage to keep a life of many artworks; it is literally rescuing them, because we still have thousands of canvases that need restoration. After all, collecting paintings, Savitsky sometimes found them in very bad condition, damaged, stored for a long time in horrible conditions. Now their restoration is one of our main priorities.
- Recently mass-media actively wrote about sensational opening in the Nukus Museum when the X-ray revealed a portrait by an unknown 19th century artist under the paint coat of M.Sokolov's work ‘River mist’. What happened to this picture?
- We know that Michael Sokolov is a name in art of the 20th century; his artworks can be found in the collections of many known museums of Russia. We have 21 paintings and 288 graphic works done by M.Sokolov. At the present we are unequivocally keeping his picture. So we are not going to take the shave off the surface now, because Michael Sokolov is more precious to us. Besides, a question of such level is not in the competence of our museum. It should be solved by the Ministry of Culture that should establish a special commission of experts as it is an issue of national heritage.
-Please tell us about museum’s short-range plans?
- Our main plan is to wait for the completion of the construction of two new bulks. Moreover, we are getting ready for the new tourist season. We get about 5,000-6,000 foreign tourists annually. It is not a lot of in comparison with other museums of such level. However, we should take into consideration remoteness of the museum, its ‘privacy’ for many years. The museum’s growing popularity and active development of tourism infrastructure will attract more visitors to our museum. Also we plan to add some interesting programs to our excursions, for example demonstration of the Karakalpak traditions, cuisine, throat singing of steppe-dwellers called dhirau, etc.
- This week you have presented the book about Savitsky. Could you tell us more about it, where it can be purchased?
Yes, at the last display of the film ‘The Desert of the Forbidden Art’ in Tashkent GranArt Art Gallery, I have presented the book ‘Igor Savitsky: a museum founder, a collector, an artist’ over which I worked for many years. There I gleaned Savitsky’s biography; little was known at his lifetime. While alive, Savitsky preferred not to talk a lot about his life and kept in dark his noble origin. His motives were obvious since many family members, friends and acquaintances suffered during the days of so-called ‘red terror’. This is why we need to talk about it now.
Savitsky's name is robustly entering the world history of art; therefore this book is also my duty as his follower and mentee. This is the first book dedicated to Savitsky, not only the museum founder but also as an artist – the whole chapter is dedicated to it. The book is published in London in Russian and English languages with the assistance of Club of the Nukus Museum’s Friends, and the revenue from the book is used for the museum’s needs. We also expect the French edition of the book financed by the French Embassy in Uzbekistan.