On April 11, Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky named Irina Antonova – director of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts since 1961 – as Chief Curator of Russian Museums.
While at 91 years old (far and away the world’s oldest director to be working on the scale of the Pushkin Museum), Antonova is full of folksy quotables – “So, we practice optimism. So what?! That’s our job!” and “I don’t know what the Chief Curator is supposed to do. Right now I’m just sitting and waiting until I get to talk about my work!” – but let’s not forget her roots. According to Artforum: “In 1945, the young art historian played a vital role in having artworks from Germany transferred to the Pushkin Museum as spoils of war. She was also one of the strongest voices to speak against the return of German artwork after the fall of the Soviet Union and in 1996 was found to be hoarding Priam’s Treasure, a collection of gold and other prized artifacts found by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1873.”
Our fair lady did not waste time raising the matter of restitution, though on a domestic scale. On April 25, she made an official plea to Putin himself to order the return of the famed Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin collections, which include such treasures as Henri Matisse’s The Dance (1910.) In the 1930s, the collections were split between the Pushkin Museum and its unofficial-rival, the Hermitage, in St Petersburg, but Antonova has spent the past decade (and then some!) campaigning for the return of the entire collection to Moscow. Now she has given shape to the idea with the proposal to found a new version of the Museum of Modern Western Art, which would house the complete collection. This of course, runs counter to the wishes of Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky, but, as Antonova reminds us: “The restoration of this museum is not the problem of Antonova and Piotrovsky, it’s not the problem of the Hermitage or the Pushkin Museum. It’s a matter of state.” Either way, we greatly appreciated that Artguide tallied some of the greatest moments of the battle to house this very famous collection (Alas, in Russian.)
On the subject of philanthropy… Throughout all this talk of oligarchs and their art centers, it’s rarely mentioned that there are no tax breaks for charitable spending in Russia. This month a bill was brought forward in the State Duma to amend this. A similar bill was proposed in 1997, only to languish 13 years until its mercy killing in 2011. This time, however, the bill seems to have more support (notably blonde-bombshell-soprano-cum-legislator Maria Maksakova-Eigenberg, who was part of the four person team sponsoring the new bill.)
On April 23, the Ministry of Culture’s Expert Council met with Maksakova-Eigenberg and others to discuss the bill. Artguide provided a fantastic run-down of the conversation (as well as a photo of the bouquet MAMM Director Olga Sviblova brought the soprano.)
Lily of the Valley, or none, Maksakova-Eigenberg was not shy about expressing her views on “contemporary art” and the enormous potential for tax fraud it enables:
In America, there is a system: if you give a work of art to a museum, you can deduct the value of that work of art from your taxes. This seems like a fabulous idea, but it leads to total tax fraud: museums take in all sorts of so-called “contemporary art” [here she had air quotes, as Artguide gleefully notes.] You know, like expert opinion says this smiley face costs 10 million dollars, and so on. A philanthropist donated it to the museum and doesn’t have to pay taxes on the money. It’s just fraud, plain and simple.
Sviblova had other worries on her mind, namely that any private charitable contributions to the museum are then deducted from the museum’s federal budget:
My beloved city tells me: live on your own means, you received 10 rubles from philanthropists and now you’re still worried that you don’t have a budget. They then tax those ten rubles, only to still deduct them from state funding for the next year – because, look, you’ve found a partner! Someone gives a crazy sum of money, as a one time thing, and then the next year – bang! – the budget is gone, because so is the “partner.”
It is high time that these issues were addressed and we are pleased to see them getting the attention they deserve. Read the full report (in Russian), here on Artguide.