Lissitzky – Kabakov
Uit de keuken van de curator

Lissitzky – Kabakov

Up and running to the Hermitage

It’s certainly easier said than done: “Let’s take this exhibition to the Hermitage!” Some people asked me: “Why take the Lissitzky – Kabakov exhibition to the Hermitage in Amsterdam? Every Dutchman could see the show in Eindhoven!” But no, we were thinking about the Hermitage in St. Petersburg…

It’s a miracle that this dream comes true; the works have safely arrived in St. Petersburg and on 28 June 2013 our exhibition opens in the Hermitage. The coming weeks I will write on the preparations, the transport, the installing and the opening of the exhibition. I am curious to know who will read this report and anxious to read some comments or questions. So please feel free to react!


Taking an art exhibition to Russia is indeed not an easy undertaking: it means a lot of negotiating, trying to make sure that everything will be ok, making calculations, avoiding all risks, checking and re-checking lists of works and props, insuring it all, having agreements and loan contracts signed by all parties and last but not least carefully preparing the transports. Just like during the preparations of the Lissitzky – Kabakov exhibition in our museum I often realized what a great luck it is to work with colleagues that know exactly what they are doing. As a project leader I sometimes just had to put the pieces together to make the machine work. But the preparations for the Russian tour took a lot of patience too. Let’s say that time is handled differently in Russia than in the Netherlands. Preparations start a lot later there. Decisions take more time. And you need more paper, faxes, e-mails, signatures, marks and apostilles. In retrospect I am glad that we started early.

My first visit to the Hermitage to discuss this project was in December 2011, after Ilya and Emilia Kabakov had put us into contact with the director, Michael Borisovich Piotrovksy. We were preparing the show in Eindhoven at the time and it seemed a good idea to ask the Hermitage if they would be interested in the exhibition. The visit to Prof. Piotrovsky was one I will never forget. After some waiting in the antechamber adjoining the large corridor of the offices, I was let in by the secretary. The huge directors office with windows looking out over the river Neva was filled with books, not on shelves, but piled against the wall. It was easy to imagine where my present – a catalogue of the collection of the Van Abbemuseum – would end up…

Professor Piotrovsky sat at a large table and invited me to sit there too. The director of exhibitions joined us and I had to explain the concept of the exhibition, fortunately not in Russian because I am still a long way from speaking fluently in Russian. Spreading out the copies of the drawings for the exhibition that Ilya had made on the table I briefly mentioned all the themes for the rooms. Suddenly there was a big bang, a kind of canon fire. No one paid any attention to it, but I could not help asking what this bang was. “It’s twelve o’clock,” said the director simply. “They always shoot once when it’s noon.” Accepting this as one of the many strange things that I met in Russia, I continued my explanation. I showed printed images of some of the artworks that Ilya and Emilia had chosen for their part of each room and of some that we had in mind for the Lissitzky parts. The director liked the concept. It was clear from his reactions. He wanted to know when we were planning this exhibition, and when it could go to the Hermitage. And of course there were some financial issues that need not be repeated here. But when we said goodbye, I could safely conclude that my mission had been successful. 
When I came outside and was walking along the Neva I felt like I had wings. I kept on thinking: “Yes! They want our exhibition! We are going to bring it to the Hermitage!”

End of part one