The Nukus museum is the life’s work of Igor Savitsky and holds an important collection of Russian avant-garde art. It is often forgotten that the museum also holds a very important collection of Karakalpak artifacts: jewelry, folk art and archeological finds amongst others.
The main reason for the fame of the Nukus museum is its collection of avant-garde art. It was collected by Savitsky in this forgotten corner of the USSR, far away from prying eyes in Moscow or St-Petersburg. It’s a fascinating story, and his love for Karakalpakistan was as great as his love for the avant-garde art, you can tell from the exhibits. There are about 90 000 pieces in the collection. They are on rotation, so every few months will see new ones being displayed.
Some of the famous names on display: Alexander Volkov, Ural Tansykbayev and Victor Ufimtsev of the Uzbek school, Kliment Red’ko, Lyubov Popova, Mukhina, Ivan Koudriachov and Robert Falk of the Russian avant-garde amongst others.
What’s nice about the collection is that it doesn’t only include the daring avant-garde works of rebel artists, but also the socialist realist style that was glorified by the Soviet regime. You might not agree with the purpose of these paintings, but their power is undeniable. The artists who worked on them are definitely no less than the ones who chose to defy the regime.
Museum in danger
The authoritarian rulers of Uzbekistan are not pleased with the international attention the museum is getting. The authorities fear that the museum might also encourage Karakalpaks to investigate their national identity. A recent (excellent) documentary laid out the problems with corruption etcetera, but ironically this only added to the problems. All of this has led to numerous harassments, ‘inspections’. One of the museum’s buildings has been closed and the future doesn’t look bright, but luckily the museum has a strong international backing.