The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art founded by Igor V. Savitsky - also known, simply, as the Nukus Museum - hosts the world's second largest collection of Russian avant garde art (after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). It is also home to one of the largest collections of archeological objects and folk, applied and contemporary art originating from Central Asia. ARTKABINETT art collector social network hopes to visit this magnificent collection one day. We would love to know via blog below, if you already have.
Igor Savitsky (1915-84), a Russian born in Kiev and the Museum's founder, first went to Karakalpakstan in 1950 as the artist in the Khorezm Archaeological and Ethnographic Expedition led by the world famous scientist, Sergei P. Tolstov.
Fascinated by the culture and people of the steppe, he stayed on after the dig (1950-57), methodically collecting Karakalpak carpets, costumes, jewelry, and other works of art.
At the same time, he began collecting the drawings and paintings of artists linked to Central Asia, including those of the Uzbek school, and, during the late-1950s/early-1960s, those of the Russian avant garde which the Soviet authorities were then banishing and destroying.
Today, the Museum houses a collection totaling about 90,000 items, including graphics, paintings and sculptures, as well as thousands of artifacts, textiles and jewelry, ranging from the antiquities of Khorezm’s ancient civilization to the works of contemporary Uzbek and Karakalpak artists.
Perhaps the most remarkable, indeed unique features of the Savitsky Collection are the paradoxes surrounding its existence. For example, Karakalpakstan - the remote northwestern region of Uzbekistan where the Museum was founded - was, and remains one of the poorest of the entire former Soviet Union.
On the other hand, despite its poor economic prospects, Karakalpakstan’s culture has been preserved and provided the intellectual raison d'être and nourishment for the Museum’s creation in 1966.
Second, the Museum may be one of the few places in the world where Russian avant garde art hangs alongside that of Socialist Realism - the former slandered by the Soviet State, the latter glorified by it.
Third, the Museum’s collection of Russian avant garde is the only one that was initially condemned officially by the Soviet Union and, at the same time, financed partly by it, albeit unwittingly. Evidently, Nukus’ status as a ‘closed’ city and, especially, Savitsky’s good relations with the Karakalpak regional authorities enabled this to happen.
Finally, Savitsky, the European, trained the Karakalpaks, his Asian counterparts, in the value of their own culture and the importance of preserving it.
His approach and sensitivity instilled trust not only in the older generations of Karakalpaks who sold him their textiles and jewelry, but also in the local government which played a large role in the Museum’s foundation and continued existence. It was this mutual affection and trust that has ensured the renaissance of both a forgotten nation and a neglected generation of artists and their work.
This pearl in the desert - or, as the French magazine Télérama recently called it, 'Le Louvre des steppes' - is located in Nukus, the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan in northwest Uzbekistan at the southern base of the now dying Aral Sea, which until the mid-1960s was world's fourth largest inland lake. Although the ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva may be better known, the Nukus Museum is in fact the fourth splendor of Uzbekistan.
Indeed, the Savitsky Collection has been called "one of the most outstanding museums of the world" by the UK's Guardian newspaper.
A new independent film, "The Desert of Forbidden Art" is the incredible true story of how one man, Igor Savitsky, saved a treasure trove of art worth millions of dollars by "hiding" it in a museum in the desert in Uzbekistan.
It portrays Savistsky as a tireless collector of paintings that the Soviet government wanted destroyed, Savitsky traveled thousands of miles scheming, plotting, pleading, doing whatever it took to get his hands on the art he so passionately wanted to preserve.
This film was written, produced and directed by Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev. Ben Kingsley, Sally Field, and Ed Asner voice the diaries and letters of Savitsky and the artists.
Today the museum Savitsky spent and risked his life for still holds the works he rescued, but although the Soviet Union collapsed and Uzbekistan gained its independence, the collection remains in imminent danger. The climate in the area is spectacularly dry, causing an accelerated disintegration of the canvases. And the regional rise of militant Islam puts Savitsky’s museum directly in the crosshairs of fundamentalists who might find the art as “degenerate” as Stalin did.