In honor of the 300th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg, Russia, the University of Michigan Museum of Art is displaying the Romanov collection on loan from the city’s State Hermitage Museum. The University is the only venue in the world where these works are being displayed.
St. Petersburg “was built on culture, and was a center for art, music, theater, dance and film,” said James Stewart, director of the UMMA.
“This is the first time these pieces have been in the United States. This exhibit is a product of post-Soviet changes and will help us understand something about their history and culture.”
The acquisition of the collection was the catalyst for an interdisciplinary festival celebrating St. Petersburg and for the fall LSA theme semester.
The program is the brainchild of Stewart, who went to the city and persuaded the Hermitage to loan the works. “The University has had a major Russian studies program. I thought we should do something significant, something high quality and something that would serve all people. Make it interesting and even sexy,” he said.
“Once the exhibition concept came through, the rest of the University community got together and created this festival,” Stewart added.
In coordination with the festival, the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library is hosting a compilation of Russian works in its Special Collections Library on the seventh floor. All of the featured works are housed in the library’s permanent collection. This exhibition showcases a narrow burst of creativity from the turn of the century, prior to Communist restrictions on freedom of expression, said Peggy Daub, head of the Special Collections Library.
“I know we have an excellent collection from that period of time, including unique items and originals. We have something really rich here,” said Janet Crayne, senior associate librarian of Slavic division area programs at the graduate library.
Some works on display were smuggled out of St. Petersburg and published in Ann Arbor, Daub said. For example, “Dr. Zhivago” was published in Ann Arbor before the censors allowed it to be printed in Russia.
“Many of these works were acquired from donors and an exchange program with Soviet libraries,” Crayne said.
LSA accordingly assigned St. Petersburg as the theme of fall semester. The wide range of people at the University who do work relating to the second-largest city in Russia were enthusiastic about the idea of the theme semester, said political science Prof. William Zimmerman.
“We have a strong Russian Department with strong ties to St. Petersburg University,” he added.
The classes offered include history, political science, film, literature and dance courses related to the theme semester. These programs celebrate the “enormous literary and artistic tradition of St. Petersburg,” Zimmerman said.
The program also includes a lecture series, a film series and performances of Russian ballet and theater by the University Musical Society.
The library’s exhibit will be over Nov. 22, and the art museum’s exhibit ends Nov. 23.