Moscow’s defunct State Museum of Modern Western Art will be resurrected online following months of wrangling between two of the country’s most high-profile figures in the art world. Addressing press today, Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said: “I signed an instruction yesterday. We will open a virtual Western art museum this year for certain. Frankly, I’m confident that a mistake was made in 1948. They shouldn’t have closed the museum.”
The museum was closed in 1948 at the request of Joseph Stalin for displaying “bourgeois” and “dangerous” artworks by modern masters such as Monet, Renoir and Gauguin. Once the world’s first state-funded modern art gallery (it was opened in 1919, nine years before the MoMA in New York), it was filled with paintings from two art enthusiasts, the cloth merchant Sergei Shchukin and the textile manufacturer Ivan Morozov. Following the museum’s closure, the collection was divided between Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum.
The defunct museum made headlines in April when Irina Antonova, head of the Pushkin Museum, asked President Vladimir Putin in a live phone-in show to revive the gallery. Her request sparked a war of words with Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the world famous Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, who objected to returning any of the museum’s artworks.
In the debate that followed, many in the art world suggested a virtual museum as a solution. Speaking to The Calvert Journal at the time, Natalia Semenova, an art historian and author of Selling Russia’s Treasures, said: “We all understand what a shock it would be to the Russian and global museum community if we created a precedent of redistributing museum collections.”