Appointments Museums Russian Federation

Pushkin Museum director steps aside after 52 years at the helm

Irina Antonova, who joined the Moscow museum in 1945, becomes museum president; Ukraine-born curator is surprise choice to lead the historic institution

Irina Antonova

Irina Antonova, the director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow since 1961, stepped down yesterday in a move that took the international museum world by surprise. Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian culture minister, announced that Antonova would move to the ceremonial post of president of the museum. Her replacement is Marina Loshak, the artistic director of the Manezh exhibition centre located near the Kremlin. Born in Odessa, Loshak founded the Moscow-based Proun gallery in 2006 which specialises in Russian avant-garde art.

According to the UK newspaper The Guardian, Antonova recently renewed her five-year contract to run the museum; officials at the Pushkin declined to comment. The 91-year-old caused a stir earlier this year when she asked President Putin during a five-hour “question and answer” marathon, televised on 25 April, if he would revive the Moscow Museum of New Western Art closed by Stalin in 1948. This would involve the “restoration” to Moscow of the great Matisses, Picassos and other Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings currently housed in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Antonova initially had the support of the government, which has approved a sum of $650m to modernise and expand the Pushkin to a design by Foster and Partners by 2018. Loshak told Russian television she needs to first “understand the mechanism of the museum” before planning any changes.

Antonova told The Art Newspaper last year about her first few months at the museum at the end of the Second World War. “It was August 1945”, she said. “The works of art confiscated from the Dresden museums were arriving as war reparations [most were returned in 1955 as part of a political treaty with East Germany]. I was there with my museum colleagues and some young soldiers, lucky ones who had come back from the front intact. We opened crate number 100, and there she was, Raphael’s Sistine Madonna.”

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