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Campus inSaint Petersburg

The Questions of Private Collections Were Discussed in HSE – St. Petersburg for the Second Time

On October 10 and 11, the II International Kotchoubey Readings took place in Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg. The conference ‘Private Collections: Objects, History, Emotions’ became an international platform of experience sharing for collectors, Russian private and public museums representatives and leading experts in this field.

Experts and cases

The experts at the conference were such eminent guests like Simon Murray, Senior Director of National Trust in the UK, who deals with questions of cultural heritage preservation; Willem Te Slaa, Curator of Museum Van Loon in Amsterdam; Aleksandra Murre, Director of the Kadriorg Art Museum; Sergey Bogatyrev, Deputy Director of the private Museum of Russian Icons and Vice President of International Council of Museums (ICOM) in Russia; and Andrey Kotchoubey, Vice-President of the Tolstoy Foundation in New York and Kotchoubey family representative.

Some of the experts visited Kotchoubey Readings for the second time what highlights the event importance and contributes to building a conversation about the role of private collections in the cultural heritage preservation.

Opening the conference, Sergey Kadochnikov, HSE – St. Petersburg Director, noted that the times connection and cultural heritage preservation are crucial for the university: ‘HSE – Saint Petersburg prepares students of undergraduate and postgraduate level in History in relevant past, and we aim to make history as a part of the modern context. Personally, for me, the destiny of Kotchoubey mansion is extremely important. I presume that it is the mansion which has to be a platform to create topics and values for the general public. By organising events like this, we want to understand how not to lose our authenticity and individuality as well as how to develop further.

The first day of Readings, 10 October, was in a conference format where the focus was on three thematic tracks: ‘Private Collection and Money: How to Get Support?’, ‘Collections of Unusual Objects’, ‘Ancestors: A Resource or Responsibility?’. Many unique cases, stories of collections and collectors, the experience of organisation of public and private institutions cooperation, and personal responsibility to ancestors and descendants were the subjects of discussion at the meeting and beyond.

The second day was in the unique format of the business game – mixed teams of students, professors, museum workers, tried to resolve problem cases from the museum practices. The cases were provided to Kardiorg Art Museum (Estonia), Institute of Russian Literature (the Pushkin House), ‘Keramarkh’ Ceramics Museum, etc. Simon Murray, Senior Director of National Trust in the UK, was the Chairman of the Jury.

Project’s origin history

‘This is already the second conference, and it illustrates its main idea to create and to develop an open cultural space in such an unusual place, associated with the name of one of the most brilliant people of his times, obtained shape of a discussion platform for professionals in culture and education. It even became an educational incubator for students of the profile major’, - said Irina Matvienko, curator of the cultural projects in Kotchoubey centre.

We would like to remind that Kotchoubey centre is located in Tsarskoye Selo mansion of the master of the ceremonies of the court of the Emperor Nikolai II Vasiliy Petrovich Kotchoubey, outstandingly educated man of his time, passionate and consistent collector.

‘Fortunately, the Kotchoubey centre has established great relationship with the descendants of Kotchoubey family, and it was impetus for launching the project historically associated with the place, the mansion owner’s name and his hobbies, as well as the centre, have a good connection with the family representatives who were in touch with Vasiliy Petrovich’s family in exile, - Irina Gennadievna continued. – We decided that it can be annual meeting with participation of Russian and foreign experts devoted to creation, preservation and exhibition of private collections, focused on the historical past of the mansion, and the time of the meeting is the golden autumn typical for Tsarskoye Selo and beloved by our guests'.

The Kotchoubey Readings are traditionally held under the public patronage of the Kotchoubey family – its representatives, currently leaving in Belgium, France and the United States, come to the Kotchoubey centre for the second time in a row and take very vivid participation in the conference.

In the footsteps of history: the conflict of the XVIII century

One of the Kotchoubey Readings clue events was the planting of an oak in the courtyard of the mansion. This event became a symbolical sign of reconciliation between Peter the Great and Vasiliy Kotchoubey, the ancestor of the mansion owner, the conflict between them was described by Aleksandr Pushkin in his poem ‘Poltava’. Vasiliy Leontievich Kotchoubey was executed in 1708 for the allegedly false report on Hetman Mazepa who planned to conquer Malorossiya. Soon after Kotchoubey death, there was the betrayal of Mazepa about which Vasiliy Leontievich had warned Peter I.

We planted a sprout of an oak tree of Peter the Great times from the Summer Garden in memory of the events of 1708, when the representative of Kotchoubey family was unfairly executed, - Olga Cherdantseva, the main keeper of the Russian Museum gardens, told. – Subsequently, the Emperor restored justice and returned his favour and confiscated property to the family. Two grandsons of Vasiliy Leontievich then came to Russia for the service, and the descendant of one of them built this amazing mansion. Of course, Kotchoubey family played a huge role in Russia’s life. That is why today’s event is significant from a historical perspective, I suppose. And this conference will grow and expand each year because it is organized at a highly professional level and has a unique historical base.

Sergey Kadochnikov, HSE – Saint Petersburg director, received a certificate for the ‘Petrovskiy’ acorn seedling from a tree monument of wildlife №133, marked on the interactive map of the Russian Museum project ‘All-Russian oak wood of Peter the Great’, and all the conference participants received a “Peter’s” acorn and instruction for its planting.

Kotchoubey Readings: continuity is on the agenda

‘It is crucial for us that this event will be an annual part of HSE interaction with the museum community and Kotchoubey family. I want this beautiful mansion to be filled with life and to have events that tie us with the past, in addition to existing education activities. We are doing our best to maintain this feeling of antiquity and continuity’ – Alexei Kraikovski, associate Professor of Department of History of HSE – Saint Petersburg, member of the Programme Committee of the Kotchoubey Readings, said.

- We should notice the social value of this project. Art collecting in Russia in this context is not easy, although people who deal with it play a vital role in preserving historical memory, so it is necessary to understand, recognise and to appreciate this.  That is why we should find ways, which will let the collectors’ community and the government take some steps towards each other. Unfortunately, there are some issues which are not tragic in these interactions, but they exist and have to be discussed. As a minimum, collectors should come out and talk about their problems, but this opportunity is rare because their community is quite gated. That is why creating a platform where opinion exchange is organised is crucial. It is important for both HSE and the society, being an organiser of another expertise type we are expanding the public agenda in the field of cultural community preservation, we are forming a professional community of people including the area of private collecting. Considering the relevance and significance of this agenda, the results Kotchoubey Readings will be presented in frames of the round table ‘Culture and Society’.

The materials were prepared by Anna Yakubovskaya, 1st year student of ‘Management’ education programme.