|The proposal to create a Museum of Artistic Culture had been agreed on 1 June 1918 by what was called the All-Russian Board of Arts and Crafts, within the People's Commissariat of Enlightenment, Narkompros, made up of representatives from the Petrograd and Moscow branches. By December, a list of nearly 150 artists had been drawn up and approved by Anatoli Lunacharsky, Commissar of Narkompros. With allocations having been granted by the Bolshevik government, works had begun to be purchased for the State Art Fund in late 1918.
The idea was to create two central branches of the Museum of Artistic Culture, one in Petrograd, with the main one in Moscow, each one to have a large collection of works. In addition, smaller collections of between twenty to thirty five works would be sent to museums and art schools in cities throughout the provinces. Between 1918 and 1921, thirty six museums and art schools had been allocated or had received works, thus setting up a vast chain of modern Russian art that could be seen across the country. Between 3,000 and 4,000 works were distributed until the mid-twenties, when all funding was withdrawn and the programme shut down.
The Moscow Museum of Artistic Culture received a collection of eighty paintings over 1919, the museum opening its doors in the summer of that year.
The Petrograd Museum of Artistic Culture opened its doors on 3 April 1921 with a collection of 257 works by 69 artists; included were also Russian folk arts and icons. The first Director was Natan Altman, who stepped down in July 1922 to be replaced by Aleksei Taran, who remained until October 1923 when he left for Kiev. Kazimir Malevich then became Director until the museum collection was removed to the Russian Museum in the summer of 1926.
The Russian Museum in Petrograd also established its own collection of modern trends, and this was due to the commitment of Nikolai Punin; it was open to the public on 9 December 1922.
As the central branch of the Museum of Artistic Culture, Moscow had the additional function of receiving requests for works from provincial museums and art schools, it was therefore responsible for the Purchasing Committee.
In February 1919, Vasily Kandinsky was appointed Director of the Museum of Artistic Culture in Moscow, and in November he also became Head of the Purchasing Committee. Aleksandr Rodchenko had been appointed head of the Art Board, and the college of members was made up of around fourteen artists, among whom were Kazimir Malevich, Liubov Popova, Alexander Vesnin, Pavel Kuznetsov, Ilya Mashkov, Aleksei Morgunov, Nadezhda Udaltsova, and Robert Falk. When Kandinsky resigned from the Museum of Artistic Culture in October 1920, Rodchenko then became Director of the Museum.
During these nearly two years, Kandinsky and Rodchenko worked closely together in the creation and organisation of the Museum of Artistic Culture for Moscow and for the provincial museums and art schools. This task took up most of their time, leaving little opportunity for painting – about which they both complained. The results were impressive, however, and were summarised by Rodchenko in his "Report on the Factual Activities of the Museum Board", during the years 1918 to November 1920:
"The acquisition staff of the Museum Board acquired 1,907 works which break down into the following types of art:
Paintings – 1,415.
Sculptures and spatial forms – 65.
Drawings – 305.
Prints – 122."
The works acquired were those of Russian modernist artists from the late 19th century, the Realists, to all the major new trends: The World of Art, the Blue Rose, the Knave of Diamonds, the fomer Union of Russian Artists, Donkey's Tail, and the Avant-Garde – Cubists, Futurists, Suprematists, and Non-Objectivists. Purchase of work of the Avant- Garde far outweighed that of the other groups, and Russian abstract, Avant-Garde, art was now to be seen not just in one museum of modern art by the end of 1920, but in over thirty. The three major collections – one in Moscow and two in Petrograd – plus all the other collections made up the first museum of modern art, probably in the world.
TO COME – The Provincial Museums What Happened to the Museum of Artistic Culture
For an in-depth study, see, S. Dzjafarova, "The Museum of Painterly Culture", The Great Utopia, pp. 475-481, and S. Dzjafarova, ""Une Politique de diffusion de l'art moderne – Les Musées de la Culture Artistique", L'Avant-Garde Russe – Chefs d'oeuvres des Musées de Russie 1905-1925, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, 1993.
See also articles by Gleb Pospelov, S. Dzhafarova, and M. Valiayeva in Masters of Russian Avant-Garde – Exhibition of Works from the Yaroslavl Art Museum, Pereslavl-Zalessky Museum of History, Architecture and Art, Moscow, 2003. The articles by Gleb Pospelov and S. Dzhafarova are reprinted in Journal of InCoRM, Vol. 1, Nos. 2-3, 2010.
On the Petrograd branch see, The Museum of Artistic Culture, State Russian Museum, 2003, The Russian Avant-Garde: Representation and Interpretation, State Russian Museum, 1998, Irina Karasik, History of the State Russian Museum, State Russian Museum, 1995, and Barbican Art Gallery, London, and State Russian Museum, St.
Petersburg, New Art for a New Era, 1999.