The State Hermitage Museum has sent the first of a series of exhibitions to south Russia as part of a year-long initiative. “The World of Heroes: Myth and Reality, Works from antiquity and Western European Art” is a show of antiquities from the Hermitage Collection. It opened in the southern region of Krasnodar on 23 September, and will travel to Rostov and Stavropol.
The project has been funded by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element, a holding company with large stakes in aluminium, car manufacturing and timber.
His support of the Hermitage is part of a public relations initiative
Mr Deripaska’s allegedly ruthless business practices have been scrutinised by the Western press. In August 2002, the New York Times reported that he had attempted to expropriate a Siberian pulp plant from another Russian businessman. His support of the Hermitage is part of a public relations initiative; museum director Mikhail Piotrovsky says this began in 2003 when Mr Deripaska offered to fund the museum. Over the next year, he sponsored a tour of works from the Hermitage to six Siberian cities.
Basic Element’s goal is to make works of art available to people in a region where it has significant business interests, says a company spokesperson. In south Russia, Deripaska, who is estimated by Forbes to be worth $5.9 billion, has investments in agriculture, owns a horse breeding farm, and owns Kuban Airlines. Neither the Hermitage, nor Basic Element would reveal the cost of the project, although museum officials say Deripaska gave some $3 million to fund the Siberian tour, and that the cost of the new tour is probably in that range.
This latest sponsorship deal makes Mr Deripaska the institution’s most generous private donor. His estimated $6m sponsorship exceeds funding provided by the Hermitage’s largest corporate donor, the American information systems giant IBM, which has given around $5m over the past seven years.
The show travels to cities which are all close to tearaway Islamic republics like Chechnya and Dagestan. Dr Piotrovsky says safety is a concern but local museums hosting the show all meet the museum’s high standards.