Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Hermitage


I cling to the notion that Art cannot be owned, rather it is an intangible, merely kept in the custody of its sponsors who are charged with its protection. I like to suppose this is part of the reason that at some time or other, we all feel some personal connection to a particular piece of work, even though someone else "owns" it.

The Hermitage in St Petersburg is the custodian of a priceless collection. A collection which is so vast that it is impossible not to find a personal connection with something, somewhere in its endless corridors and ballrooms.

A day trawling through its corridors is a day in which sensory overload is unavoidable. The enormity and completeness of its collections is overwhelming and the knowledge that what is left represents a mere whiff of what once was, is difficult to comprehend. The enormity of the wealth that was required to create it, and contrast between that and the enormity and completeness of the poverty that surrounded it, and to a lesser extent still does, is even more difficult to comprehend when one is standing amid its treasures.

As the sensory fog lifted on the fine autumn day of our visit, I found myself between a van Gogh or two, and a Matisse or three, staring into the square below, and wondering seriously about the future of these pieces, and the quality of the custodianship.

Priceless treasures are there to be admired and studied, but are also exposed, to be walked over, touched, or should one be so inclined, damaged. The apparent lack of conservation controls is terrifying.

The last time a van Gogh changed hands on the open market, it was for almost one hundred million dollars, the Matisse's each would value at a third of that amount. In the West each would be the subject of a special exhibition with around the clock security. Here they hang, unattended by an open window as if they were a collection of faded calendars on a workshop door.

There are security measures throughout the building of course, had there not been, the likes of Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones would have donned their leathers and whipped them away years ago, but each time I see the photo above, showing the pair of two-inch nails holding the window closed in the van Gogh gallery,

I can't help but wonder:

"Wouldn't that photo have been better if I'd taken the time to focus?"

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2 comments

Ian and Lynda said...

With all that wealth you would have expected 3in nails as a minimum, preferably 4 in.

Meg in Nelson said...

Oh, ha ha ha ha ha. I felt so bad when I read the chubby-man-with-gold-chain post, and regretted getting a silver brooch for my birthday AND posting about it, but then I feel better knowing you flew to Russia. Phew.

I'd like to live a conscientious life, but lately all kinds of concerns, including what to do with every little plastic food container, is crippling my ability to enjoy or appreciate life as well.

Great posts.

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