Hell comes to the Hermitage, Chapman brothers style
Latest phase of Modern art wing includes temporary displays of work by Goya and instruments of torture
By Sophia Kishkovsky. Museums, Issue 240, November 2012
Published online: 06 November 2012
The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg this month opens a room devoted to Dmitri Prigov, the pioneering poet and Conceptual artist who died in 2007. This display is the latest stage in the creation of a vast Modern art wing. In October, the museum opened an exhibition by the controversial British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman (until 13 January 2013). Dmitri Ozerkov, the head of the Hermitage’s contemporary art department, says the museum has plans to open at least 12 rooms devoted to contemporary artists, including Sol LeWitt and the Kabakovs.
The exhibitions and artists’ rooms are part of the Hermitage 20/21 project, which the museum’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, launched in 2007. The Modern and contemporary art wing will be housed in the east wing of the General Staff building on Palace Square (the west wing is used by the Russian military). The neoclassical building, designed by the Italian architect Carlo Rossi and completed in 1830, is near to the Winter Palace, the Hermitage’s main building.
Ozerkov describes the exhibition, “Jake and Dinos Chapman: the End of Fun”, as “anti-Fascist”, and says it has been organised to highlight issues important to contemporary Russia—especially to a city that still vividly remembers the horrors of the Nazi blockade of the Second World War. “These are interesting and relevant artists for us,” Ozerkov says. “They understand themes of violence, cruelty and the consumer society. [The show] will depict the cruelty of Fascism, violence and hatred.” The artists have recreated a chamber of horrors with thousands of miniature figures, many of which are dressed in Nazi uniforms, engaged in various acts of violence.
An exhibition of engravings and drawings by Francisco Goya will be shown in a parallel exhibition, along with weapons of torture from the collection of the Hermitage Arsenal.
Ozerkov calls Prigov “an artist unique first of all for his syncretism. He combined poetry with drawing, music and theatrical performance.” The Hermitage showed its Prigov collection in Venice last year as part of the parallel programme of the 54th Venice Biennale. “He is one of the few from the Moscow art scene of the 1970s, 80s and 90s who created his own unique world, a kind of intuitively discernible parallel world, the deep meanings of which are yet to be understood.”
The General Staff building, which already includes displays from the Hermitage’s historic collections, is undergoing a massive restoration and modernisation project in preparation for the museum’s 250th anniversary in 2014. Ozerkov says it is being refurbished to “meet the needs of a modern museum”, which includes the installation of proper lighting and other improvements. According to the museum’s website, the building’s overhaul will cost Rb6.5bn ($211m).
The building’s east wing, which has nearly 800 rooms and five courtyards, is being unveiled this month; the rest will open by the end of 2014. The top floors will be dedicated to Modern art.
In addition to receiving state funding and money from the World Bank, the Hermitage 20/21 project is being supported by corporate sponsors, such as the Coca-Cola Export Corporation. The UK Friends of the Hermitage group has also thrown its weight behind the project by raising money and organising exhibitions. In 2011, shows of work by Henry Moore and Anthony Gormley were held at the museum. In the Gormley exhibition, the artist’s sculptures were displayed among ancient Greek and Roman artefacts against the backdrop of the Winter Palace’s grand interiors. The Tower of Snow, 2011-12, by the Cuban sculptor Enrique Martínez Celaya is on show in the Hermitage’s Great Courtyard until the end of this month.
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