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The Art Museum in the Soviet Union, 1917-1941

1917 the Bolsheviks wanted to cast off the past in order to build a new and a more just world at least in their eyes. But they soon learned they would not succeed in their project unless they integrated institutions they inherited from the unbeloved tsarist system. One of these was the “bourgeois” museum. By giving it a communist shape the Bolsheviks considered it one of the most important stages where the relation between the old and new could be brought into line. Especially the art museum figured prominently in this process not least because the Louvre, one of the powerful outcomes of the French Revolution, represented the modern and, more importantly, prototypical revolutionary museum. In Russia the Tretyakov-Gallery took on this role after 1917 which is largely unknown. The book’s main target is therefore to carve out the meaning of the revolutionary art museum in the 1920s and 1930s in the Soviet Union. It addresses the questions of how the museum technologies of collecting, arranging and exhibiting of art were enhanced and promoted by the new regime and in which ways these technologies found recognition.

As the Tretyakov-Gallery was one of the most fundamental institutions to create a new contemporary art it also contributed to the implementation of a new visual culture. His particular weight amongst the Soviet art institutions gave him authority to teach his visitors new ways of seeing and viewing. Thus, the Gallery not only set s for transforming a “bourgeois” into an exemplary communist institution but also renewed the appreciation of art in general.

In this book I would like to analyse the Russian art museum in a broader context. To capture the continuities as well as disruptures with internal and external developments I will focus on the time period between 1900 and 1940, localise the various protagonists, and reconstruct the practices these protaginists applied in order to help conceptualise and build the new art museum.