Last week, we reported how newly-appointed Chief Curator of Russian Museums Irina Antonova did not waste time, promptly petitioning Putin (on national TV, no less) to consider re-establishing the Museum of Modern Western Art. Originally founded in 1919, and 1923, the institution housed the magnificent combined collections of Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin, who bought up Impressionists at a time when Matisse was still considered an aberration. Antonova’s petition would give Moscow a kind of Musee D’Orsay, to supplement the Tretyakov Galleries and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (where Antonova is still acting director.)
It would be a fantastic plan – if only half of the works weren’t already pivotal to the contemporary collection at the Hermitage, where part of the work was relocated after the war, and if only Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky weren’t hellbent on keeping these works – including Matisse’s Dance – there. Still, hard to battle promises made on live TV, and so it is that Putin announced he would take Antonova’s suggestion into consideration, appointing a team to research her proposal. Their verdict is to be delivered June 15, 2013.
It can’t hurt Antonova’s case that the international art world is busy lauding other high profile restitution claims. The Metropolitan Museum made the front page of the New York Times with its May 3 announcement that it would be returning a pair of sculptures to the Kingdom of Cambodia. According to the release, the works in question are two 10th-century stone statues of “Kneeling Attendants,” originating at the seven-tiered Koh Ker Temple, and eventually given to the museum from the late 1980s and early 1990s. For the twenty years following this gift, the two lifesize sculptures have knelt before the entrance to its Asian Wing. According to the New York Times writers, “The Met’s decision reflects the growing sensitivity by American museums to claims by foreign countries for the return of their cultural artifacts.”
So far the Met has received a surge of public approval for taking the initiative in this case. However, it will be interesting to see if and how the precedents set here affect other holdings.