Art of Memories. : Curating at the Hermitage
New York City : Columbia University Press
Once the home of Catherine the Great’s private art collection, Russia’s State Hermitage Museum became the largest museum in the Soviet Union and, since the collapse of the USSR, one of the most active museums in the world. The Hermitage is a global model for the collection and preservation of fine art, deeply shaped by its need to protect itself and its holdings from the world beyond its gates. In Art of Memories, Vincent Antonin Lépinay documents the Hermitage’s curatorial practices in an innovative consideration of the museum as a cultural laboratory. Lépinay analyzes the tensions between the museum as a space of exploration of the collections and as a culture heavily invested in self-protection from the outside world. During a time when traveling abroad was rare, a generation of art historians produced a culture of confined scholarship premised on their proximity to the holdings of a museum enclave. As the Hermitage has become increasingly present on the world museum scene, its culture of secrecy and orality has endured. Lépinay analyzes the ethos of Hermitage curators and scholars over the transition from Soviet to post-Soviet museum cultures, considering the mobility of art, documentation of the collection, and the transformation of expertise. Based on Lépinay’s extraordinary access to the Hermitage and the scholars who work there, Art of Memories opens the door of one of the world’s great museums to reveal how art history is made. It is an essential study for readers interested in the role that outside forces play in culture, organizations, and the production of knowledge.