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Reconstruction at the Russian Museum. Keep or destroy?

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Anton Tsouman, reporter: “The Russian Museum, 35th hall. Painting of Ivan the Terrible by Repin. Right now it’s almost as if looking at paintings by his contemporaries – Gerart and Rubinshtein. But soon his gaze will be directed at the doorway”.

In the next hall – where tourists from all over the world has the chance to admire the uneasy labor of Volga’s haulers – there will be a doorway too, right where the famous painting is now hung. All this is the continuation of Mikhailovsky Palace’s reconstruction, which has been dragging on for several years.

The idea of the reconstruction dates back to 2002, when architect Filippov’s project won the tender. According to the blueprint, the inner yards were meant to be covered with a glass dome in 2015, while overlaps were supposed to be installed inside. Under the pressure from preservation activists, overlaps were scrapped. But lifts for people with limited mobility remained. That blueprint – which exists now – still causes debates. Especially creation of new passages inside the palace and new entrances outside.

The new door, according to the project, would take you out to the gallery, above the inner yard. What’s interesting – this gallery exists on the 19th century blueprints. The author of the blueprint Rafael Dayanov assures – the majority of new doorways are put where the old ones used to exist. And to see that it’s true – you only have to rub off the paint.

Yes, a building – especially a Museum – must modernize and adapt to the modern realities. Putting glass domes into inner yards is a common global practice. Providing access for people with limited mobility – is a must. But it’s also important to take the opinion of Museum’s employees into consideration. Leading researcher Irina Shalina has no doubts – the reconstruction will affect not so much the building, but the museum.

But the biggest concern is generated by the relocation of 10 collections from the reconstruction’s zone. Administration of the Russian Museum did not make any comment. But two years ago, its director Valdimir Gusev voiced the following plans:

“We are completely ruling out any relocation – not just major relocations, but even individual collections will not be moved. From their rooms, let alone leaving the walks of the Mikhailovskiy Palace. All collections will stay at their places”.

Head of Folk Art department Irina Yakovlevna Boguslavskaya. She’s the longest serving employee of the museum – been here for 65 years. Now she’s not thinking of where she would place new items, but where she would have to move the existing ones. The textiles collection will move, she says, into one of the most popular halls – Folk Art of the 20th century.

Nina Mikhailovna Vasilyeva shows us the Rare Books collection, which she supervises. If only the Great Duke Georgiy Mikhailovich – the Museum’s first ever boss – knew that the collection he had created with his own hands would be moved into an unknown place in the 21st century, to be replaced by toilets! Yes, toilets! At the spot of unique publishings, which often create the foundation of an exhibition.

Books, especially vintage ones, take changes in storage conditions badly. Yes, collections need new rooms. But none of those proposed are fitting the bill, according to the library’s workers.

And the deadline for the move – according to the museum workers – is December 1st. In order to see whether that is enough time to do this job, we came to Stanislav Prokurorov’s workshop – to experiment on how long it would take to wrap one vintage book into protective cover. In our case it would be modern-day book by Kant. With 15 hundred pages in it.

In other words, this cannot be done quickly. And this is yet another prove that every major change must involve well-weighted decisions. Especially if these changes concern one of the most beautiful buildings in St. Petersburg and one of the main Museums in the country.

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