Museums Russian Federation

Writer’s shrine to get epic treatment

International team of artists and designers to create park dedicated to author of Master and Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov

The Italian architect Gabriele Filippini and his Russian wife, Olga Moskvina, who won a competition run by the Moscow city government to transform a small writer’s museum into a multimedia “literary park”, plan to involve international artists and designers to realise their ambitious vision.

The Mikhail Bulgakov State Museum, one of two institutions in Moscow dedicated to the life of the writer and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940), is housed in a former communal apartment in which the author lived during the 1920s. The architects want to involve other museums and the nearby Patriarch’s Pond neighbourhood, the setting of Bulgakov’s masterpiece, The Master and Margarita.

The novel, written between 1928 and 1940, was banned until the 1960s and censored for decades afterwards. It is a satirical portrait of life under Stalin that includes a mystical interpretation of philosophical questions. The main characters include the devil, in the guise of a mysterious visitor named Woland, and Begemot, a huge talking black cat. (A magnificent furry black cat holds court in the city-funded Bulgakov museum. He also spends time in the privately funded Bulgakov museum, which is in the same building, and is happy to be petted by visitors to both.) Christ, Pontius Pilate and Judas also feature in the novel, which is one reason why it was banned.

Ambitious vision

Filippini and Moskvina were due to present a final version of the scheme as we went to press, having won the competition to expand the museum in October. Their plan includes holding performances on a floating stage on the pond. In a round-table discussion in November, Filippini said that two to three years are needed to “realise our concept”. Moskvina told the RIA Novosti news agency that the designer, Maurizio Morini, is working with the British artist and film director Peter Greenaway to develop special effects for the project. A member of the competition jury, the cultural critic Grigory Revzin, said that Filippini’s project aims to raise the museum to an “international level”. He is keen to involve the US theatre designer Robert Wilson, “whose very presence [will] become an additional virtue of the museum”. The budget and exact timescale are yet to be announced.

The project is part of a sweeping upgrade of cultural institutions being overseen by Sergei Kapkov, the associate of the billionaire Roman Abramovich who was appointed to run Moscow’s culture department in 2011.

The city-run museum opened in 2007. It displays photographs, furniture, books and objects related to Bulgakov and recreates the atmosphere and conditions of communal life among the intelligentsia during the Great Terror of the Stalin era. 

The privately funded Bulgakov museum is slightly older, having opened in 2004. It is housed in another apartment in the same building. Tension between rival groups laying claim to Bulgakov’s territory and heritage recalls scenes from The Master and Margarita. A similar dispute is brewing over Moscow’s plans to revamp a museum devoted to the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Since the 1970s, hippies and fans of Bulgakov have settled in various parts of the building, which is also known for a graffiti-covered stairwell inspired by Bulgakov’s life and his most famous novel.


Begemot the cat divides his time between the two museums that celebrate the life and work of Mikhail Bulgakov
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