Monday, October 13, 2008

The Savitsky Museum

The Savitsky Art Museum is one of the more unlikely art museums on earth. It is in Nukus, Uzbekistan. If were possible to put the middle of nowhere on a map, Nukus would be a front-runner. Nukus is in the Kyzylkum desert, a day's drive from Tashkent (the capital) and far from any tourist attractions. We spent 18 hours on a train from Samarkand to get there. It would get no tourists except that it is a stopping point to go to the Aral Sea. And it has the Savitsky Museum.

Many people don't realize just how repressive the Soviet Regime was. The Soviets controlled almost every aspect of people's lives including the art. Stalin decided that art should not have western influences. Art should be realistic, and it's purpose should be to promote the ideal of socialism. Smiling happy workers were good. What most of us consider to be art was bad. Artists who voilated these rules were jailed, locked in mental institutions, or killed. Their works were destroyed.

Savitsky was a Russian painter, scientist, and archeologist who lived in Uzbekistan. He collected a vast array of clothing and jewelery from the area. He also did a lot of archeological work. As a result the Savitsky museum has an excellent collection of costumes and other ethnographic exhibits, as well as some great archeological stuff.

The museum is famous for another reason though. Savitsky decided to try to save some of the art which Stalin's regime had banned. With the help of supportive local authorities, and at great personal risk, he collected over 90,000 paintings, prints, sketches, and other questionable works of art. His focus was on little known artists, and he often bought hundreds of paintings by the same person. Many of these works would have been lost forever if not for his bravery.

Times have changed and Savitsky's work is now housed in a lovely museum. For $18.00 three of us got admission and a three hour tour with an English-speaking guide. We saw lots of examples of local art, and some of the best pieces from the vast Russian collection. Because there are so many works of art in the museum there is a rotating exhibit which changes regularly. Unfortunately (in my opinion) not enough space is given to the rotating exhibit. I found it much more interesting than all the costumes and pot fragments which you can see in many other museums. Still there are many great paintings and if you like art it is worth going to the museum for the story alone.

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