Monday, 27 December 2010

The Museum of the East in Moscow


The rain came to Moscow on Christmas day, melting the snow briefly before freezing into sheets of ice as smooth as glass on the streets and pavements. The trees turned into glass like sculptures as the water expanded into a transparent  coat of thick ice, covering the branches in a brittle quick-silvery casing.  Some trees have collapsed with the sheer weight of the ice. Many will struggle to recover when the ice melts having been denied oxygen for so long, unable to breath. No one remembers such a phenomena in Moscow and I certainly for all my years here cannot recall seeing such a thing, so beautiful and yet so damaging.
Natasha spent four days tending her exhibition of Ikebana at  the Moscow State Museum of the east in association with a Japanese artist who makes collage paintings with flower and plant material. I had to be there on hand as it were for emergencies and moral support.
The operator and director Slava Sachkov came to the exhibition with his wife Olga. A friend for many years in Moscow and camera operator on the film "Mayakovsky" and"Meyerhold Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde", he had just returned from Vietnam for the ninth time. He is lecturing at a film school in Saigon and in seems to be single-handed helping to revive the Vietnamese film industry or so it seems to me. He stayed for a few hours and he talked about his work there and some of the visit he made to Hanoi. 
With time on my hands after Slava and Olga left, I wondered around the Museums labyrinth  halls. The collection is  is housed in the remains of a pre revolutionary classical building which had previously been the home of the Lunin family, whose most famous son Mikhail was a soldier, a poet and one of the leaders of the Decembrist movement. Its ornate pillared halls with 6 meter ceilings still retain their imperial grandeur of those far off days. I wandered alone most of the time through the muted interiors which house the different collections: The Iranian collection of paintings and cloths, swords and armour and costumes, the inheritance from another empire: the Chinese gallery with its scrolls and hundreds of sculpted  ornaments and figures made from ivory, jade and other rare stone material. Two galleries are devoted to Japanese art. In one hall there is a row of beautiful engravings on one side and   a series of calligraphy scrolls on the other wall. The centre piece in a huge glass case is a metre high ivory eagle in pose with wings outstretched as if to take flight.
As I walked by the mute exhibits, I tried to imagine if the pre revolutionary inhabitants ever imagined that there home would one day house a museum. The ghostly silence of each hall seemed to suggest they had not anticipated such a fate but were nonetheless content that the house was still standing and of benefit  to the thousands of visitors who pass through these halls to witness Russia's intimate connection to the East.