Interview with Vasily Tsereteli, Executive Director of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art
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Vasily Tsereteli – Executive Director of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, a Commissioner of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation at International Exhibitions in Venice, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Arts, member of the Presidium of International Council of Museums, artist, photographer.

Maria A. Burganova: MMOMA is one of the symbols of the successful integration of Russian art into the world’s cultural space. Also, it is a platform for the presentation of prominent international cultural figures in Russia. How synchronous are the processes in culture and art in Russia and the world?

Vasili Z. Tsereteli: MMOMA is one of the symbols of the successful integration of Russian culture. The Moscow Museum of Modern Art is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, which is a significant event. MMOMA is the first state museum of contemporary art in modern Russia, which opened its doors in December 1999. The museum was created by artist Zurab Tsereteli, whose central concept was the art of the 20th and 21st centuries. As you know, Russia was the first country in which a museum of modern art was opened in 1923. Shchukin and Morozov were among the first to open the heritage of world culture to the public. Russia has always been ahead in the Avant-garde and many other areas of art. The Moscow Museum of Modern Art, like many other international museums, ranks equally in concept and direction, like the Pompidou Center in France, the New York Museum of Modern Art, and Tate Modern in London. For all of them, preserving the heritage of the previous generations, studying and transmitting the modern heritage to future generations is crucial.

Exposition Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Moscow. Photo by Sergi Shagulashvili

Maria A. Burganova: How can you characterize the potential audience of the museum? How much does it change?

Vasili Z. Tsereteli: The audience of the museum is very extensive. We see, especially now, that families with children and young people start to attend. Basically, of course, people aged 25 to 55 are the primary audience; however, there are also many young people and older people among the museum’s visitors. As you know, the museum has six different venues. For each of them, various programs, special excursions, and visits have been developed. We try to make the museum accessible to everyone. Everyone must find their place in the museum. Of course, now that everyone is in quarantine, we see high attendance in our online programs. The museum has made a great emphasis on posting excursions online and thus striving to keep the number of audiences not decreasing but, on the contrary, increasing. The Night of Museums showed that interest in the Museum did not diminish but remained practically at the same level as during regular times when people attended the Night of Museums.

Maria A. Burganova: New formats emerged in art in the 20th century. However, taking into account globalization, virtuality, new technologies – what is your projection of art development in the 21st century?

Vasili Z. Tsereteli: Yes, we can see how much everything is being transferred online and made digital, especially now during this pandemic, when all people have been isolated for three months. It can be said that the study of art and the observation of art and artists through the Internet began to prevail. I believe that this trend will only continue to grow. Many artists are already creating works in a virtual space, particularly in a virtual one with glasses, through which one can observe sculptures and paintings. Museums produce exhibitions in virtual space. At the same time, before transferring art to the virtual space, sculptors initially create their works with their hands, and artists make sketches. Therefore, the art that is and will be created by sculptors, painters and photographers will still be exhibited and will continue to exist in museums. I think that art in the virtual space will continue to develop but in parallel, while preserving the museum space.

Maria A. Burganova: Can a museum influence the national idea through art, creative projects, educational programs? Do you think that MMOMA is responsible to society and the state?

Vasili Z. Tsereteli: I think that, of course, each museum has its responsibility in the sense that it shows history: artistic history, history of culture, society, history of a place. When we visit the Pompidou Center in France, we see how the French perceive the history of the 20th and 21st centuries through the prism of their perception, including their understanding of world culture. Russian art is also represented in Pompidou, but again it is presented through their vision. When we come to America, this is the view of the American curatorship and specialists on world history; that is, the view of the English-speaking world. When you visit a museum in Russia, it is certainly a look at art through our prism, our perception. And so, it should be. When you visit museums in different countries, you realize that it is impossible to copy them. Of course, in this sense, every museum and every scientific department of the museum works to educate, show and explain art in that context, in that historical prism, in that time, both the past and the present, with analysis and in time development.

Maria A. Burganova: What are the criteria for a new format of art, devoid of real museum space and genuine works? After all, one has to perceive a virtual product as a museum object, as a masterpiece.

Vasili Z. Tsereteli: Distance is needed for the perception of any artwork. Very often, it takes time to determine what is a museum-quality piece and what is not. The art that we know and that is modern is diverse: from realistic to abstract, virtual, to virtual realism, to graphic, to games, and so on. A vast number of different art formats exist. Depending on what is created, the works are further evaluated by experts and eventually end up in a museum. Therefore, it takes time to test which works of art will remain in cultural memory and which will not.

Maria A. Burganova: Will the new generation, accustomed to living in the virtual world, need a real museum? Wouldn’t it have the fate of an inaccessible bank safe into which only specialists can enter? Will the museum survive as a bridge between the real work of art and the viewer?

Vasili Z. Tsereteli: A museum is always more than just a depository of art. It is essential to understand that a museum is an institution – a scientific institution that studies, explores, shows, demonstrates, educates, and enables people to immerse themselves in intellectual progress. Thus, a person develops at all levels: from visual and tactile to all other types of perception. Any virtual world provides only a platform, again, in virtual space. There are various works of art, especially those that need to convey sound, smell, spatial perception, scale, human relationship (especially for sculpture, where there are two objects – you, as a viewer, is the first object, and sculpture is the second one). This dynamism between you and the object you are looking at requires a different perception. Therefore, in any case, museums will always exist. It was discussed many times in the history of art. We saw in the 60s in world art, in America and other countries, when artists were against museums, against the ‘museification’ of art, and tried to create works that could not be ‘museumified’. However, in the end, all these works were preserved and continued to be created further. This is how the market works; this is how space is arranged. There are whole areas, such as food art, the works of which are still ‘museumified’, studied, and preserved. Thus, I think the role of museums will only grow stronger. The museums will use the virtual aspects as some opportunities for deepening, for the possibility to convey the idea of exhibitions, projects and collections that the museum has to the world audience with the help of the Internet and virtual space. It would be possible for the museum to go beyond the city as well as convey, show in high quality to those citizens of the country who do not have the opportunity, for example, to come to Moscow to see projects and exhibitions every month or visit museums several times a year. Hence, they can see it all online. Therefore, this is a significant work carried out by museums as scientific, cultural, and research centers: vast archives, presentations to libraries, and the creation of scientific capital. For any country, for any society, it is crucial to have museums and scientific centers that preserve the culture of the state in which we live. Science, art, and culture are the foundation of any society. Thus, it is vital for art to be preserved, explored, and displayed in its original context without manipulation, documenting everything reasonably for future generations.

© Maria Burganova
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