Hidden Treasures: Savitsky Museum of “Forbidden Art”
There is a place far, far away, tucked into a Central Asian desert – no, hidden in plain sight in a Central Asian desert – where paintings of a time gone by are treasured and preserved, as they are in so many art museums.
But this is no ordinary museum.
The Savitsky Museum shelters the world’s second-largest collection of banned Soviet-era avant-garde art, located in a hard-to-find desert town – remote Nukus, capital of the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan, a former Central Asian republic of the former Soviet Union.
Igor Savitsky was a 35-year-old Moscow artist in 1950 when he joined an archaeological dig in remote Karakalpakstan, in Uzbekistan. When it ended, Savitsky stayed. The young artist was captivated by the culture, carpets and art collections, as well as the camaraderie of Russian artists who had fled from KGB censorship in the 1920s.
Obsessed with saving this art from destruction, Savitsky slowly and slyly spirited away 40,000 pieces of “forbidden art” to his Central Asian backwater desert town, convincing Soviet officials he was buying state-approved art for his newly-created museum in Nukus. Who would ever think to look here – in plain sight – for such Soviet-condemned art? It was a safe haven in the desert. A starving artist himself, Savitsky convinced government officials to use public funds to pay for these paintings!
Special tours of the museum’s storage room reveal thousands upon thousands of precious paintings stacked up, spread out, and even propped up on the floor. More funding is needed to properly preserve and protect these once-banned paintings from destruction.
Igor Savitsky died at age 69 and is buried in Nukus. Until the very end of his life, Savitsky was helping Central Asian artists nurture their own creative style and appreciating their own valuable works, even in a region considered one of the poorest in the former Soviet Union.
An award-winning and visually stunning documentary, Desert of Forbidden Art recently brought world attention to Nukus, the museum, and Savitsky’s heroic and secret efforts to save a generation of this “forbidden art.” It’s the stuff of Silk Road legends.
While Uzbekistan is known for its gorgeous Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, Nukus is fast becoming popular as a must-see stop to visit the Savitsky Museum (MIR travels there) and to honor the one who brought it all to life, hidden in plain sight in a desert far, far away.
(Top photo credit: Lindsay Fincher – Paintings on display at the Savitsky Museum, with many more stored in its back rooms)
PUBLISHED: September 4, 2014