Database on Russian Art, 1860-1940

The project “Russian Art 1860-1940 in Western Museums: Information Database on the Internet” is a new development of the major Cultural Heritage Database Project with the web address art-russia.org. The entire project is implemented under the patronage and with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.

The Project is funded by a number of foundations operating globally, such as the Solomon R.Guggenheim Foundation, the Judith Rothschild Foundation, New York, and Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne & Zug; and by the Russian government, the Russian Cultural Initiative Foundation, and the Rosizo State Museum and Exhibition Center.

The Initiator & Head of the Project is Mr. Nicolas V. Iljine, the European Representative of the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum. Coordination & Supervision is carried out by Anna S. Kolupaeva, Head of the Museum Directorate, Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. The Executive Director is Zelfira Tregulova, The Moscow Kremlin; and the Treasurer of the Project is Irina F. Uritzkaya, the General Director of the Russian Cultural Initiative Foundation. A team of Research Associates includes Inna Balakhovskaya and Ekaterina Allenova – Collections in the Russian Federation & CIS; Elena Bassner – The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; Tatiana Gorjacheva – The State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow. The research I conducted on behalf of the project is linked to related collections of Russian art housed in Western museums.

The Cultural Heritage Database Project (art-russia.org) is a collaborative non-profit project whose objective is to create an information database on Russian art initially from the collections of Russian museums – The State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow, The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, and 45 Russian regional museums.

The Mission of the major project is to establish a global bilingual resource for educational and scholarly research and for national and international exchange of knowledge.

The project aims to illuminate the importance of Russian art as an international phenomenon within the context of world culture. Russian art from 1860-1940 is underrepresented in major American and European art collections and the number of related publications both in English and Russian is limited.

At the same time, numerous art treasures from Russian regional museums and from Western museum collections are unknown in Russia and abroad. In many aspects this artwork remains terra incognita1 .

Only the Cultural Heritage Database Project will enable the vast, unique but often separated or hidden information to be surveyed for the first time, researched, organized, and made accessible to Internet users around the globe.

The project homepage is currently online. The actual site is still under construction, yet it is accessible starting the summer of 2003. At this point the website is anticipating vital development. Some pages have only one language presentation and foresee progressive construction; some translations are not yet polished but approachable and readable.

An integrated comprehensive database is being generated revealing Russian art of the last four decades of the nineteenth century and the first four decades of the twentieth century.

The Cultural Heritage Database Project on the web emphasizes the artwork created within the time frame 1860-1940, reflecting the development of the Russian Realistic School of the second half of the nineteenth century, the birth of Symbolism in Russia, the development of radical artistic trends in the early twentieth century, the climatic years of Russian Non-figurative and Abstract art, the transformations of the art of the Avant-Garde in 1920s, and the emergence of Socialist Realism.

For the first time on the web, the information on Russian art is being simultaneously and equally presented in two languages. This database can be accessed in English and Russian from two servers based in Russia and abroad.

The growing international interest in Russian Avant-garde art requires priority to be given to reflecting on the collections from Russian regional museums that can provide international users and scholars with formerly inaccessible information, including specific surveys from the Russian State Archive of Art and Literature, and regional and local archives.

Currently, the body of Internet users has radically grown. The web is undoubtedly a source of information of greater importance for both professionals and the broader audience.

Yet, there is no website integrating detailed information on works of Russian Art 1860-1940 from Russian and Western collections.

The website art-russia.org aims to become the first large scale Internet presentation of Russian art (including Avant-garde art) containing cross-links to major related Western and Russian museums’ and collections’ reference websites such as The Getty Research Institute’s Vocabulary Database (the Union List of Artist Names) and the planned Register of the Museum of Modern Art’s newly accessioned collection of Russian Avant-Garde books donated by the Judith Rothschild Foundation.

The database is not intended to cover the entire inventory of artwork in collections but is going to emphasize a number of selected works highlighting specific participating museums and private collections.

In total, 5,000 to 7,000 art works by 150 Russian artists are planned for display on the web. The list I compiled at this time, as a result of my research, presents 1,250 art works by 170 artists housed in Western museums.

Currently, the list of participating institutions includes 69 museums, among them The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Hillwood Museum and Gardens, Washington, D.C.; The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; UCLA Armand Hammer Museum, CA; The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; The G. Costakis Collection at The State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece; Musee National d’Art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne; Stedelijck Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid.

The database is being arranged in several levels – one level of information is targeting general audiences; the next level is going to serve as a resource for specialists and scholars.

The information is organized in following segments:
– Art works
– Artists
– Collections of Russian art
– Dictionary on Artistic trends
– Information on the Project
– Discussion room, including the following guidelines:
– Artist (Life time)
– Title of artwork
– Date
– Media, Dimensions
– Art institution and Inventory number
– Provenance, Date when the artwork entered the collection
– Major exhibitions, Bibliography
– Description of artwork
– Image
– Photograph or Description of the back of the art work
– Sketches, studies or replicas of this artwork in other collections

The Russian firm Epos in collaboration with the Foundation Russian Cultural Initiative developed computer techniques for the project. Epos received a patent for the invention of the new digital scanning technique based on the multi-screen principle that significantly enhances image quality.

In the process of scanning, the greater resolution of digital images provides specialists with unique opportunities for advanced professional expertise. The high quality digital images of art works are being protected from commercial use. The design for the website is provided and funded by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Detailed information on provenance, major exhibitions, signatures, inscriptions, stickers, a description or a photograph of the back of the artwork, is not limited to only standard queries.

The reviews on historical and cultural contexts will provide users with information on a series of related data – artists’ biographies, artistic movements and schools, and a network of cross-references. We appreciate working in collaboration with all institutions and collectors on behalf of the project.

The database can be researched through the following sections:
– Artists
– Art works
– Art Schools or Groups
– Collections
– Time Frames

Issues of provenance and authenticity are considered an underlying concern for identifying original artwork in Western collections. During my research I received a number of letters and notes from western specialists with related comments, for instance from Prof. John Bowlt and from the curator of the Zimmerli Art Museum Alla Rosenfeld.

To establish a credible level of valid references and to authenticate the compiled database, an Advisory Board was created. The research support and approval are being provided by the distinguished Members of the Board: Pavel V. Khoroshilov, Deputy Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation; Evgenia N. Petrova, Deputy Director of the State Russian Museum; Thomas Krens, Director of the Solomon R.Guggenheim Foundation; Vitaly V. Kirillov, Chairman of the Russian Cultural Initiative Foundation; Alexey I. Komech, Director of the State Institute of Art History; Prof. Dmitri V. Sarabianov, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of the Russian Federation; Prof. Mikhail M. Allenov, Moscow State University.

Also of a significant help are corresponding provenance references that provide links to websites maintained by institutions and organizations worldwide committed to assisting in the search and recovery of looted works of art, such as The Getty Provenance Index, U.S. National Gallery of Art World War II Provenance Research Pages, Lost Art Internet Database, Museum Security Network, Commission for Art Recovery, and many others.

Creating the checklist of Russian art held in Western collections was part of my research for the project that entailed discussing the problems and uncovering a magnificent variety of pros and cons on the development of this remarkable initiative.

Coordination of various strategies and techniques helped me in implementing the task. The Project was carried out in the following ways:
– Research on the web
– In Libraries
– Creating and Operating Mailing Lists
– Academic and Institutional Outreach
– Introductory Press Coverage
– and over Establishing Primary Contacts using diversification and priorities and the Core Values of Strategic Representation
– Creating List of Bibliographic References based on Bibliography on the web and Museum and Exhibition Catalogs.

For instance, initial research conducted on the web provided me with the information on available Internet resources. My request on Russian Avant-garde websites brought up 41,500 web results. From these, I suggested nine of the most comprehensive selections;

For research on Kasimir Malevich websites, I obtained 12,500 web results; Marc Chagall – 62,400 web results; Ivan Aivazovsky – 2,860 web results; David Burliuk – 1020 web results; Wassily Kandinsky – 46,200 web results, etc.

The research conducted in academic and museum libraries was necessary for familiarizing with concrete collections, current status of research, the scholarship, and the essential specifics of the Project. The most comprehensive research libraries included the following:
1. The Central New York Public Library – Departments: General Publications; Slavic and Baltic Division; Periodicals;
2. The Museum of Modern Art library;
3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Watson Library.

Direct mailing is an essential technique for reaching out to the majority of the collections. Creating and developing the mailing list is a permanent task for the global collaborative work. All connections and professional contacts require constant updates.

The specific character of the project urges a vast variety of academic contacts. Academic outreach is one of the most important and creative tasks for the success of the project.

I compiled and maintained an academic mailing list that contains not only a number of corresponding institutional references, related professionals, individuals, and academics but also a number of lists of academic and other related societies and associations that cover the majority of related professionals in accordance with the global goals of the project.

Receiving its own voice is the key to success for the project. Currently, the introduction of the project Russian Art in Western Collections to the Western museums is established through the combined electronic distribution of bilingual press releases, narratives, fact sheets, and other descriptive materials created, developed, and edited in collaboration with the Initiator and Head of the Project Mr. Nicolas Iljine and Ms. Zelfira Tregulova, Executive Director of the Project.

All large museum collections contain at least three to ten or more art works related to the project. Statistics shows that American institutions are most likely interested in collaboration, European museums do not have open access to staff, and networking is extremely time consuming.

More effort and time are required for developing direct contacts with curators, directors, and related professionals.

Our priority is given to the most extensive collections – both European and American-however, the objective obstacles in establishing direct contacts, sometimes as in the case of having no Internet access, can cause major delays.

The Costakis Collection in Greece and the Ludwig Collection in Cologne are the two largest primary collections of Russian painting outside Russia. The Costakis Collection contains 1,300 pieces by Russian Avant-Garde artists. Die Sammlung Ludwig houses 600 Russian art works.

The Cultural Heritage Database is an ongoing project. Positioning and tactics helped me in the evaluation of perspective trends, in referring to provenance issues and to the issue of legal protection and copyright. New information and new and continuing contacts are sought. Additional adjustments are anticipated and many barriers must be overcome.

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