Centres of artisanal culture: discussions on provincial art museums and the handicraft industry in the first quarter of the 20th century
This article deals with the complex of issues concerning the definition of provincial art museums and industrial (applied) art museums in Russia’s cultural life during the early twentieth century. А movement for aesthetic education in the late nineteenth century led to the increasing importance of decorative art and the spread of museums exhibiting such objects. The ideas of German and English art critics and museum workers were widely recognised in many countries, including Russia. In the 1910s, the role and significance of local art museums and industrial art museums in Russia pertained not only to aesthetic issues, but also economic ones. This article analyses archival materials related to the committees established at the Institute for the History of Arts (Petrograd) during the spring and summer of 1917 following the meeting of representatives of the sciences and the arts: here, the creation of a special Ministry of the Arts was discussed. One commission was devoted to the art and handicraft industry. A programmatic report was delivered by V. Ya. Kurbatov, a prominent art historian and researcher of the culture of St Petersburg. The principal propositions of the report can be analysed in the context of other speeches by the same author. In his reports, Kurbatov put forward the idea of establishing museums directly connected with the economic development of the regions rather than ones solely used to conserve and exhibit certain types of objects. He proposed the establishment of a new kind of museum – ‘museum-workshops’. Turning to similar initiatives abroad (e. g. the ideas of A. Lichtwark, a museum curator, reformer of aesthetic education, and the director of the Hamburg Kunsthalle for many consecutive years) helps us to clarify the pragmatic aspect of the project. In a sense, one can see a parallel between these projects and the attention given by the Soviet government to provincial museums, from which the authorities also hoped to receive direct economic benefits. Consequently, when it comes to issues surrounding museums, it is possible to see another dimension of the interaction between the centre and province aimed at forming a culturally homogeneous space for both the empire and the Soviet state.
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