Hidden from the World – A Lost Treasure in the Desert – Nukus Museum

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History of the museum

Experts and the world press increasingly agree that the State Art Museum in the Republic of Karakalpakstan in Savitsky, has the second largest collection of Russian avant-garde art in the world and is the best art collections in the Asian region. The British newspaper “The Guardian” called the collection “one of the greatest in the world.”

SavitskyVeduschie Western art – C. Douglas, J. Bolt, A. Flaker et al. – Said that the basis for the revision of the history of Russian and Soviet art, of course, should be the collection of the Museum of Savitsky. For an unprecedented short period of time, the Nukus Museum gained a large number of pieces of art, numbering about 90 thousand units. This fact has no comparison in the world in the practice of museum collecting. This achievement was made possible thanks to the genius of one man – Igor Savitsky, founder of the Nukus Museum.

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Russian artist Igor Savitsky (1915-1984) was born in Kiev. He first went to Karakalpakstan in 1950 as an artist with the famous Khorezm archeological and ethnographic expedition. Fascinated by the culture and people of the steppe, he stayed after the expedition in Karakalpakstan, methodically collecting Karakalpak art objects and textiles. Soon after, he began to collect works of Central Asian artists, and later, Russian avant-garde art works that the Soviet government rejected and destroyed. As a result of this work, the museum now has about 20 thousand paintings, as well as 70 thousand carpets, coins, jewelry and other artifacts from ancient times to the present.


Igor Savitsky and Central Asia

Savitsky’s  first experience of Central Asia was during the Second World War, when he was evacuated to Samarkand. Despite hunger, disease, wartime difficulties, he was fascinated by the region. In Samarkand, Sawicki met with such famous artists as Robert Falk. In 1950, Savitsky gladly accepted the offer to take part in the Khorezm archaeological and ethnographic expedition and from 1950 to 1957, working as an artist of the expedition. Sawicki also went to Karakalpakstan, visiting villages where he became familiar with pieces of folk art and crafts. Shortly afterwards, he began to collect these items and send them to the collections of museums in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was at this time he left his apartment in the center of Moscow on Arbat Street and moved to Nukus.

It was during this time that Savitsky was able to convince the authorities that Karakalpakstan needed a museum of art and in 1966 he was appointed director of the Nukus Museum. Unfortunately, he left painting to become director of the museum. He knew it was impossible to do both at the same time. During these years, Savitsky independently led a team to archaeological excavation sites of ancient Khorezm. Savitsky was able to realize his dream – to create an unusual museum, not just a copy of the Tretyakov Gallery. He also wanted to show young Karakalpak artists in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been shown in Moscow and Tashkent in 1920-1930’s. Initially Savitsky collected the works of artists linked to Central Asia (A. Isupov, L. Kramarenko, N. Ulyanov, M. Voloshin) and began with the origins of Central Asian art school (R. Mazel), in particular, the Uzbek (Volkov, Kurzin M., N. Karahan, W. Tansykbaev V. Ufimtsev and others), and later expanded the range of artists represented in the collection.

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As a witness of what was happening under the cultural policy during the days of Stalinism, Sawicki just could not pass by and ignore a layer of a dying Russian culture during the 1960s. Igor Savitsky began to export from Moscow and other cities of the Union, hundreds of thousands of forgotten works, branded in the formalism of rogue artists in the remote and “closed”city of Nukus. Thanks to the trust, which he managed to win with the local authorities, during those 10-15 years, Savitsky was able to assemble a large collection for the museum. The irony was that despite the fact that most of the items in the collection were officially banned, they were paying for the purchase them with public money, although the search continued for funds for new acquisitions, it remained a constant concern for him.


East Nations Art Museum – Moscow

Finally, recognition

Over time, the fame to the Nukus collection started to grow during the years between 1968-1969 in Moscow, at the Museum of the East, an exhibition, followed by a series of exhibitions in Moscow. Savitsky’s authority had grown so much that the museum was considered to be in Moscow. The Ministry of Culture of the USSR began to provide financial support, as well as access to funds from other collections (including the collection of Fernand Leger).

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Nevertheless, the difficulties and hardships that characterized Savitsky adulthood began to take their toll. He worked tirelessly, often neglecting his health. In his later years, Savitsky was treated at the prestigious Moscow hospital, where his room was converted into an office and where he continued his scientific work, writing articles and working to expand the collection of the Museum.

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On July 27, 1984 Savitsky passed away in the Moscow hospital. friends, artists, and critics said goodbye to Savitsky. The State Museum of Oriental Art from this point openly admitted his achievements. At the request of Savitsky, his body was buried in the Nukus in it’s Russian cemetery .

The Museum Today

The official recognition of Savitsky activities and his collection came after 1991 when Nukus became known to foreign art critics, journalists, diplomats and businessmen working in Tashkent, at the time Uzbekistan had newly acquired its independence. The world’s leading Correspondents, broadcasters, journalists, and well-known publications began to tell the amazing story of Savitsky and the paradoxical facts relating to the history of his museum. The Savitsky Collection continues to be recognized as one of the world’s most exciting museums continues to grow.


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