The Unique Treasury

Issue #2 • 892

The Museum of Arts of Karakalpakstan named after I.V. Savitsky is the richest collection of the art pieces of the Karakalpak people. The museum possesses the rich and intriguing collection, where one of the most interesting sections is painting and graphics of the artists of the early 2Oth century. The director of the Museum is telling about the collection.

International mass media, cinema and television journalists and a wide public take interest in this unique collection calling it “the pearl of Priaral land”, “oasis in desert” and “wonder of desert”. The museum forms a notion of the country’s culture beginning from the 3rd century B.C. In its collection there are artifacts of antique and medieval Khorezm, folk decorative and applied art of the Karakalpaks, small in the past semi-nomadic ethnos having the ancient history and original culture. The section of painting art is a significant art phenomenon. It presents, besides the national art school of Karakalpakstan, the works of founders of painting art of Uzbekistan – multi – national group of the artists having worked in Middle Asia at the beginning of the 20th century. In experts’ opinion, the Nukus collection of Russian avant-garde by its significance and scale occupies the second place in the world after the Russian Museum in S.Petersburg. Within unprecedently short period the Nukus Museum had been enriching its collection, which now includes about 90 thousand exposits. This fact doesn’t have any analogues in museum practice wherever in the world. At the beginning of the 70s the Karakalpak museum became something like Mecca for art experts.

How was such amazing collection of the beauty formed at this far from cultural centers place, which the people all over the world associated just with Aral crisis? History of the museum is linked to another great history of richest civilization formerly blossoming on the Karakalpakstan land. This magic and full of mystery land captured the heart of Moscow artist Igor Savitsky who first visited Karakalpakstan in 1950 as a member of HAEE of the Academy of Sciences of USSR headed by S.P. Tolstov, a scientist of world reputation. His discovery of Ancient Khorezm stands in line with activity of Schliemann in Troy, Carter and Carnarvon in Egypt, Stevenson and Thompson in South Africa.

As a member of the expedition I.Stavitskiy registered and described the finds and monuments where the excavations were done. Simultaneously he took part in the work of ethnographic group headed by the famous researcher T.A. Zhdanko. Savitsky collected pieces of folk applied art for museums and scientific institutions of Moscow and S.Petersburg. The scientists had poor information on the Karakalpaks and the public knew almost nothing about them. As I.V. Savitsky said “small ethnos lost in sands and anabranches of Amu Darya had unexpected unique art”. This unknown culture so deeply captured him that he decided to move to Nukus refusing for ever comfort of Moscow capital life.

Originally I.Stavitskiy worked at the Karakalpak branch of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan headed by the young local scientist Marat Nurmukhamedov who became his friend and supporter in all his initiatives. Later his support promoted realization of many Stavitskiy’s ideas. 1957 – 1966 became a period of intensive collecting of the Karakalpak folk applied art. I. Savitsky and his assistants made a tour of the whole north of Karakalpakstan and formed the collection having become actually genetic fund of the Karakalpak culture. In that period just a few persons could realize an actual value of these subjects. Jewelry, carpets, wonderful embroidered dressing, yurt interior and horse harness became archaic as due to some political reasons as because of approach of civilization having brought mechanical work with artificial paints, European fashion style and the other “creature comforts”. The young generation that almost fully had lost their culture could not understand what for this strange man with burning eyes needed that rag. They called him a bagman. He extracted clothes out of stall and aryks where sometimes a carpet was used for floodgate to be blocked. All these things were restored, often with the help of Moscow restorers, and propagated.

At the same time I.Savitsky continued to work in painting; he created amazing landscapes of the land, which played for him the same role as Polynesia for Goghen. He was teaching the first Karakalpak artists and forming their art talents. He confirmed the state authorities that Karakalpakstan needs a museum of arts, and in 1966 he was assigned a director of the Nukus Museum of Arts, which was founded on his initiative. In that period Savitsky participated and later personally did archeological excavation at the monuments of Ancient Khorezm. The finds from those excavations as well as materials submitted from AS USSR form the most interesting section at the museum. Unfortunately I. Savitsky flung up the painting and became a director of the museum. He considered that he shouldn’t combine these two occupations. His understanding of the painting art and perfect taste found realization in choosing of the works for the museum. His purpose was to form extraordinary museum and to escape from the principle of “small Tretiyakov’s galleries”, so spread in USSR. He wanted to demonstrate to young Karakalpak artists the art way of their foregoers in Moscow and Tashkent in 1920s – 1930s.

Originally Savitsky collected the works of artists connected with Central Asia (A.Isupov, L.Kramarenko, N.Uliyanov, R.Falk, M.Voloshin and others) and standing at the sources of Central Asian art school (R.Mazel), in particular, of the Uzbekistan school (A.Volkov, M.Kurzin, N. Karakhan, U.Tansikbaev, V.Ufimtsev and others). Charactering the Central Asian avant – garde collection in Nukus, it is necessary to note that if the artists working then in Moscow and Petersburg were known to researchers, the artists working in the east provinces of Russia, and later of the Soviet empire, were out of their vision, though the Central Asian School was an integral part of Russian avant-garde. At the beginning of the 20th century, especially during the first post – revolutionary decade, Central Asia became an especial gravitating point for the artists.

The artists, having come to Uzbekistan, were of various manners and had high painting culture and art experience. They brought a spirit and traditions of Russian and European culture, which transformed and was spiritualized by oriental culture and philosophy. Thus, was born the original art school having caused a great interest and deserved high evaluation of critics and art critics at the early 1930s. The artists followed the stars of Russian avant – garde, “idoloclasts of foundations” of the academic painting. Before their Uzbekistan period they were influenced by the art of K. Malevich, V. Kandinsky, D.Burlyuk, F. Filonov, M. Shagal, M.Larionov, N.Goncharova, P.Konchalovsky and others. The arrived artists actually created a fundament of the painting school in Uzbekistan, which didn’t have such traditions in painting art.

They chose the plastic means, which were easily followed by the people of the Muslim world. Therefore they refused subjectless being in their “art luggage” and used the visible means of “changed but recognizable world”. For example, A.Volkov, like many other his colleagues, considered that painting art of Central Asia based on painting – decorative foundation and “primitivism”, implying folk decorative and applied art with its specific property to expose the world simplifying realistic forms and giving them geometrical character. Volkov created his pictorial and painting canon. Having summarized and polished characters, postures, gestures, rough movements and plastic strength reflecting national features, Volkov reached grotesque on a basis of geometrization. In cause of expressiveness he refused the minor, revealing just principal things. His world of subjects obtained geometrical contours.

Specific everyday life preserving ancient style, specific nature, characters reminding the Bible prophets, folk art with its polysemy and symbolism became a source for new art means. Thus, classic heritage of the West, traditions of Russian icon painting and experiments of Russian avant – garde combining with decorative ornaments of Central Asian art gave life to unique art world vision. Many artists turned to the primitivism as the most accordant stylistic mean for expression of oriental impressions (Volkov, Ufimtsev), fauvism (E. Korovai), or expressionism in combination with sezannizm and fauvism (Kurzin, Falk and others), symbolism (Usto – Mumin), neo – classicism with romantics (V.Markova). However, the Stalin’s regime terminated a fly of these talented artists and passed them into oblivion. Volkov was accused of formalism, Kurzin, Usto – Mumin and Gaidukevich were repressed, Ufimtsev and Tansikbaev changed their way meeting the requirements of that time.

I. V. Savitsky being a witness of cultural policy in the period of Stalinism could not ignore a significant stratum of dying out Russian culture, which in 1960s was not required in USSR. He began to take from Moscow and the other cities of the Union the works of forgotten and accused of formalism artists – outlaws and brought them to Nukus, far from political centers. Private collectors didn’t influence on the activity of Savitsky and its scope. At the result of credence of local authorities he obtained due to unprecedented activity on local crafts saving and training of local artists as well as at the result of numerous diplomatic efforts and persuasive skills, Savitsky within 10 – 15 years had formed absolutely unique museum. He paid state money but during many years. His main concern was to find money to pay for pictures and drawings. Not all their owners were patient. He found kind understanding among artists’ widows being in troubles and to whom Stavitskiy often helped. Young inheritors were especially insistent. Sometimes the matter was submitted to law court. After the death of I. Savitsky in 1984 many owners expressing their respect to him gave their works to the museum free of charge. Remained debts were repaid by his students and followers.

Like this, Karakalpakstan and its capital museum became a refuge for many masters, the best in Russian culture but downtrodden while alive. As we noted above, for a long period Russian avant – garde had been persecuted at homeland and some artists and their works found a refuge abroad. Many artists presented at the Nukus Museum were recognized in European countries while alive. They were active participants of international exhibitions, received education in studios of Paris and Munich. Especially strong were contacts with France – a recognized patron of the arts of all periods and peoples. Names of Kliment Redko, Lyubov Popova, Vera Mukhina, Ivan Kudryashov and Robert Falk were included in catalogues of many Paris’s exhibitions at the beginning of the 20th century. In the Museum there are works of tens of artists who lived and studied in France. (This can explain especial popularity of our museum in France, for example, the exhibition in 1998 under patronage of J. Shirak). There are works of that period too. In former Soviet Union this bright period in history of culture, which is lost in central museums, was well presented just in one place of the big country. – in Nukus.

In the first years after its establishment the museum of Savitsky obtained currency. In 1968 – 1969 its collection was exposed in Moscow, at the Museum of the East. Then was triumphal tour of exhibitions around cities of USSR – Tallinn, Lvov, Leningrad, Alma – Ata, Kazan, Tashkent and others. From 1970 each remarkable foreign exhibition of modern art presented the Nukus collection.

Authority of I. Savitsky was so high that he became highly respected even in Moscow. The Ministry for Culture of USSR supported him paying for the purchases. The archives of art values welcomed him. In 1975 Savitsky was proposed to choose for the museum a part of collection given to the Ministry for Culture of USSR by Nadezhda Legee, the widow of Fernand Legee. This was in time with celebration of jubilee of Savitsky. In the museum, this collection of 79 copies of world masterpieces made in Louvre studios in jest is called a gift to I. Savitsky on his birthday.

In 1981 the Club of art critics at MOSH arranged the party of the Nukus museum in a hall at the Kuznetsky Bridge. It was actual triumph of the museum. However, official recognition of I.V. Stavitskiy’s activity and the collection came along with new changes in the country, and global popularization of the museum began just from 1991 – a year of proclamation of independence of Uzbekistan when journalists and experts, employees of foreign embassies and international organizations got access to Nukus. Phenomenon of “the museum in desert” became in focus of international attention. Journalists of world leading TV and radio corporations and mass media are developing paradox facts about the museum. The Nukus Museum was included in many exclusive guides of the world. Sometime, Savitsky, dreaming about the future, told that soon the visitors from Paris would come to see the museum. This moment has become true.

Author: Marinika Babanazarova

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