Without a doubt the best Fine Arts museum in Kazakhstan, the Kasteyev museum has a large collection of paintings, sculpture and folk art of different periods in Kazakhstan’s history. It is a must-visit for anyone who loves art and beauty, or anyone who wants to learn the story of Kazakhstan as told by painters, sculptors and crafts people.
The Kasteev collection consists of 6 parts which you encounter in the following order:
- Kazakh applied and decorative art
- Western European art
- Foreign art of the 20th century
- Russian art
- Fine art of Kazakhstan
- Art of the Orient
The main reason to visit is the Fine Art of Kazakhstan. While you can find plenty of European and Asian art elsewhere, it is likely that no museum in the world has a collection of Kazakh paintings and sculpture rivaling that of the Kasteyev Museum.
Numbering 23 000 pieces in total, many artworks are stuck in the basement, and it pays to return as the permanent collection on show is periodically refreshed.
It pays to return anyway. They have wonderful art.
Entirely unrepresentative, below, some of my personal favourites from different parts of the collection. You can find a more balanced view on the gallery page of the Kasteyev museum website.
If you want to skip the pictures, click to go directly to the practical information for visiting.
Russian art pre-Soviet
Kazakh and Soviet art pre-1960
Kazakh art post-1960
Central Asian art
Who was Abylkhan Kasteev?
Born in 1904 into a poor family in a village near Almaty, like everyone else, Kasteyev struggled through the upheavals of the Soviet take-over of the Russian empire as a child. His poverty was his saving grace, though: his poor upbringing put him first in line for a scholarship to study art in Almaty, and later in Moscow. This way he managed to escape the famine that killed a quarter of the Kazakh population in the 1930’s.
Unlike other artists who later ended up in Siberian labour camps, Kasteyev never had a zest for formal experimentation. His interests were nature, Kazakh traditions and the life of simple people. These were also the kind of subjects the Soviet powers liked, and Kasteyev became a well-respected painter over time.
Was he the greatest painter to ever be born in Kazakhstan? Technically his paintings are very good, but in style and subject matter he remained (necessarily) restricted, and his subjects tend to have a cartoonish quality to them in my view.
After visiting the Kasteyev museum, you can make up your own mind.
If you have a deep interest in the life of Abylkhan Kasteyev, you can read this Voxpopuli article [ru], and visit his house museum in Almaty at 6A, Bekkhozhin street – tel 291-89-08.
It takes at least 2 hours to visit the museum, although visitors with stamina can easily spend twice as much time.
An audio-guide is available. If you have a smartphone with mobile data, you can get the audio guide for free by scanning a QR code next to the paintings. You can preview the guide here.
- Entry fee: 500 tenge for adults (special exhibitions usually cost an extra 500 tenge). Every third Sunday of the month admission is free.
- Audio-guide in English: 2000 tenge
- Guide in English: 9000 tenge per room
Opening hours and website
- Open Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm.
- Closed on Monday and every last day of the month. Summer hours 11am – 7pm.
- Kasteyev museum website
- Address: 22/1 Koktem-3 microdistrict
- On the map: Openstreetmap / Google Map
- Metro stop: Auezov Theatre metro is a 5 minute walk from the museum.
- Nearby attractions: Exiting from the metro, you spot the imposing circus in front of you, and the even more imposing Auezov theatre behind. If you cross the Esentai river on your left, you spot another curious Modernist building next to the theatre: Almaty’s Wedding Hall. Worth a look.