September 25, 2013

Memo From St. Petersburg: People Are Talking About

From June 28 to October 31, 2014, the State Hermitage Museum will be hosting the 10th edition of Manifesta, the roving European contemporary art biennial. The biennial will be based in the newly-restored General Staff wing of the Hermitage, and coincides with the 250th anniversary of the museum’s founding by Catherine the Great.

There have been concerns, and even a police investigation, over cost overruns and quality of the General Staff reconstruction, reportedly about the glass roof installed over its internal courtyards. Nonetheless, the museum has been gradually unveiling its halls, and is focusing on promoting it as a venue for contemporary art to educate Russians about what they missed during the Soviet era. Look for an exhibition of Greek shipping magnate George Economou’s collection of German Expressionist art and works of post-World War I New Objectivity, which runs through January 20, 2014. The building will also be a showcase for Faberge Rooms honoring the legacy of Carl Faberge, jeweler to the tsars.

Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg is also opening a Faberge museum this fall to display the Malcolm Forbes collection of Faberge eggs that he purchased in 2004 at an estimated cost of $120 million. The museum will be in the Shuvalov Palace, which Vekselberg has restored, near the State Russian Museum.

Preservationists and other civic activists are gearing up for battle over a city government plan to restore the city center, which they say is radical reconstruction in the guise of restoration. St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has said that restoring the entire city center could cost 4 trillion rubles, roughly $126 billion. One of the pilot projects is in the New Holland district on the Kryukov Canal where billionaire Roman Abramovich and his partner Dasha Zhukova are developing a contemporary arts center at a former czarist naval yard. It had a two-year test run before shutting down this month for full restoration of the dramatic site, to be based on a concept by New York’s WORKac.

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