Exhibition Activity: Achievements and Challenges
Art Exhibition Directorate is a unique museum institution in terms of its profile. Having in its possession a significant stock of contemporary pictorial and decorative-applied art items, from the moment of its establishment (1959) it has been extensively engaged in organizing stationary and mobile exhibitions in close cooperation with museums and art galleries of the Ministry for Culture and Sports of Uzbekistan, CIS republics and foreign museum institutions.
In 1997 the Directorate was incorporated into the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, but this has not changed the museum status and functions of our institution. In my view, the most significant factor that gives a fresh spur to its operations is the resolution of the issue concerning the reconstruction of the oldest exhibition hall in Tashkent located at Akhunbabaev St., 4. During two decades that preceded the reconstruction, this building of unique parameters erected in 1943 in the centre of Tashkent based on the design of the architect A. I. Petelin, was closed to the public and used only as a base for preparing mobile exhibitions, storing exhibits and exhibition equipment. Before this exhibition facility - now known as the Contemporary Art Centre and the Tashkent House of Photography - was put into operation, practically all exhibitions organized by the Directorate had been held on somebody else's territory: in museums, galleries, lobbies of concert halls and other public buildings, with everything that follows. The organizers of numerous exhibitions remained 'off screen', in the shadow of luckier owners of exhibition premises. Perhaps this explains that fact that until recently very few people had an idea about laborious activity of the Art Exhibition Directorate or knew about the institution at all.
Over half a century of its existence, despite numerous organizational rearrangements, including several changes of location, the Art Exhibition Directorate has won strong recognition in the museum community not only in Uzbekistan, but also in many foreign countries as a worthy professional partner capable of implementing diverse and challenging exhibition projects. Every year it runs over 50 exhibitions ranging from small-scale stationary and mobile expositions in Uzbekistan to major international exhibition events in which it participated, such as "Uzbekistan on the Silk Road" in Stuttgart (Germany, 1995), "Art and Culture of the Temurid Epoch" (France, 1996), "Expo-2000" in Hanover, etc.
The last decade, during which the Art Exhibition Directorate became part of the Academy of Arts, and the reconstruction of its own exhibition hall that was completed in 2001, have been a new qualitative turn in the creative activity of the institution. The reconstruction of the hall was preceded by many years of preparation: the concept that was being developed envisaged functional diversity of the facility: not only an exhibition hall with appropriate storage space, ancillary premises, academic offices and a library, but also a place with a possibility to give lectures, run musical, histrionic and other performances and concerts related to exhibitions - that is, the functionality of a contemporary art centre in the broadest sense.
The Centre, with many years of experience of the staff and the richest collection of the pieces of art, after having acquired its own exhibition premises, realized its potential in the original exhibition projects that immediately drew attention to the Centre from a broad audience and made it one of the popular exhibition halls in the country. False modesty aside, one can say that many initiatives of the Art Exhibition Directorate that were implemented over these years in the Contemporary Art Centre have become a model exhibition practice for our colleagues. Operations of the Directorate were not limited to the work in the Contemporary Art Centre.
Exhibitions were held in the Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, in the new Fine Arts Gallery, in the exhibition hall of Ilkhom Theatre and in many other exhibition facilities in our city. Starting from 2006, the Art Exhibition Directorate has changed its place of residence: from now on it is the Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts. Different place does not mean simply the change of address: new exposition environment calls for a change in the exhibition practice and the development of a new image, and this is not an easy process, it takes time.
How exhibitions are created? What is an artistically arranged exposition and how is it different from simply hanging or installing objects of art in the space of a hall? Why some expositions, just like pieces of art they exhibit, leave a mark in our conscience and touch our soul, while others pass without trace?
The secret is both simple and complicated. Exposition, like any piece of art, is a product of talent and professional skill of its creators. Be it in a chamber-style or on a grand scale, it is created and lives following the same canons as a painting, musical or literary piece - as a study, an essay, a sketch or a historical canvas; it can resemble a chromatic scale or a polyphonic piece, a concert or a symphony. Everything depends on the set objective and skill of the authors and performers (naturally, not less important are the means and timeline of implementation!). Exposition author is a script writer, artist, director and often a performer in one person; he should have a sense of style, colour and space, as well as many other qualities which are usually not easy to learn. Yet it is possible to understand, to feel and to have an impulse of a given creative spirit.
For nearly half a century the Art Exhibition Directorate has been learning this uneasy job -exhibition arrangement. There were many of them, but I can say with confidence that every art historian or an artist (usually it is them who create expositions), like the authors of any piece of creative work, would single out only few items that are particularly dear to them. The most delightful thing in this very exciting creative process is the joy of success, the creation of a festivity that is shared with authors and viewers and especially with colleagues-professionals. Success of any exhibition depends on a coordinated work of a big team - the work where every single element is important just as complete creative like-mindedness - things that are most desired and most difficult to achieve in practical work.
The birth of original exhibition projects is preceded by a carefully thought-through concept, knowledge and meticulous selection of exposition material and the development of an extraordinary artistic solution for the exposition - an integral artistic image in which the interior of an exhibition space becomes a kind of a canvas and the displayed objects a palette. Only this way, from a multitude of artistic realities there emerges an exhibition flavour and the mood that the viewer remembers for a long time. And when an exposition is accompanied by a word of wisdom, an appropriate musical background or an action, the event turns into that very festival of heart and soul that everyone desires.
In the last decade there were quite a number of such festivals. Annual plans of the Directorate do not evolve spontaneously, but take into consideration key directions in museum and exhibition activity. These include republican and international exhibitions, thematic stationary and mobile displays, personal and group-based exhibitions of artists celebrating anniversaries; exhibitions of museum and private collections and artistic heritage of recognized masters of art from Uzbekistan; exhibitions dedicated to traditional crafts, the work of young artists, and of course exchange exhibitions of foreign collections. The most significant among them in terms of scale are the annual national-level actions "Eng Ulug" and "Eng Aziz" dedicated to the national holiday of Uzbekistan, the Independence Day, and the traditional craft festival organized annually to mark Navruz holiday.
In formulating its plans, the creative team of the Directorate always gives preference to thematic and conceptual exhibitions and retrospectives that represent the art of a particular region of Uzbekistan or any selected kind of art that needs special coverage and gives an opportunity, apart from presenting narrowly focused professional issues and demonstrating new pieces of art, to replenish its own museum collection. The indicative examples include an exhibition called "Surkhandarya. The Valley of Legends" (2003), which presented a wide retrospective range of archaeological material, fine and folk art of the region and photographs; exhibition-contest "My Makhalla" (2004); "Traditional Crafts of Bukhara and Kashkadarya"; "Traditional Textiles and Costume of Uzbekistan" that were organized in the framework of arts and crafts festivals in 2004 and 2005, and many others.
Among anniversary exhibitions I would single out two expositions, complex in their objectives and interesting in terms of concept and creative solution. The first one is "Ex Orient Lux", "Light from the East", (1988) that was opened in the halls of the Research Institute of Art Studies to mark the anniversary of Al Fergani and Al Bukhari. The other was an exhibition dedicated to the 545th anniversary of Kamoliddin Bekhzad organized in the Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts. These two were constructed basically in the absence of original exposition materials and visual historical artefacts. Imagery array was created with the help of photocopies of historical documents, manuscripts and thematic selection of artistic, archaeological and textual material. The authors of the projects were able not only to explore the subject-matter of the exhibitions, but also to convey to the wide-ranging audience the grandeur of what had been achieved by oriental scholars, through original solution employing art and imagery.
Undoubtedly a success in the work of the Directorate was also a republican exhibition "60 Years of the Great Victory" (2005) dedicated to the end of the Second World War. This grand-scale action is an excellent example of creative collaboration. Its organization involved the participation of museums and state archives of Uzbekistan and the embassies of allied countries - Russia, Belarus and the United States. The exposition that occupied the entire space in the Contemporary Art Centre covered thematic retrospective of painting, graphic art, sculpture, poster, documentary photographs and archive materials of the war years. Many of these items were presented to the public for the first time. During the exhibition, visitors could watch documentaries and feature films, listen to the wonderful music of the war years and put their reminiscences of the war in the Book of Memory. The Ministry of Defence orchestra, the Tashkent jazz club bands and Tashkent theatre actors took part in the concert and exhibition programme. During the whole month while the exhibition was open, the hall was full of visitors, among which, gratifyingly, were not only war veterans and pensioners, but also students and schoolchildren.
Marked with the viewer's particular attention were the exhibitions of artistic heritage of art masters from Uzbekistan, such as "Studies of the Masters", "Artistic Dynasties", "On the Way to the Painting", and the personalities of Abdulkhak Abdullaev, Chingiz Akhmarov, Rashid Temurov, Zakir Inogamov, Manon Saidov, Boris Kotlov, Boris Brynskikh, Georgiy Brim, Grigoriy Chiganov, Igor Savitskiy and other well-known artists. In combination with traditionally held memorial evenings, these exhibitions were remembered for their warm encounters - dialogues between the past and the present, with friends and colleagues reminiscing about the art of gone masters.
It should be noted that the popularity of exhibitions held in the Contemporary Art Centre has increased owing to well-devised interactive work with the audience, especially with professionally trained viewer. Each thematic exhibition goes with seminars, meetings with artists, contests and concert programmes. But this does not mean that the viewer's attention can be won by setting up some kind of performance or a show at the exhibition. Viewers can be galvanized also by a static exposition without any costly design gadgets or gatherings with refreshments, which is now popular. Let me take an example from my own experience of organizing an exposition: there was not less visitor feedback to the retrospective "East-West. Dialogue in Time" (2000) with a rather modest, classical presentation of exposition material, but with polyphonic structure and numerous refrains of the visual array, than to "Seismograph" (2003), originally performed but costly project created by the joined effort of the Academy and the Swiss Cooperation Office. Both are dear to me. Judging by the extensive feedback from colleagues and viewers, these can be considered creative achievements. It is wonderful when an idea gets financial support it deserves and can be implemented to its full capacity. "Packaging" of an exhibition is extremely important, and it is one of our weaknesses; but if the missing part is the idea, or concept, or though, or the most important ingredient of the exhibition - a worthy piece of art, the dialogue will never happen.
We are not spoiled here; moreover, we are still very far from the progress that has been achieved abroad in storage, restoration and exposition practice. Too modest are resources allocated for technical facilitation of our museums and exhibitions and for the replenishment of our collections. So far we only dream about Maecenases. Yet, be it as it may, museum collections exist. In our possession we have fantastically rich cultural and historical heritage and a potential, which is not yet lost, in contemporary fine and folk art. We have the most important thing - something to display, and our audience is unsophisticated and open to the perception of beauty. Our task is to educate it in the feeling of respect for our own history and our own cultural heritage, and all available means are good for achieving this goal.
Over the years of independence, our audience have been learning more actively about global cultural heritage and about art overseas. This happens usually through activities implemented by foreign embassies and representatives. The most accessible cultural information is channelled through foreign photographic materials. For instance, it is impossible not to mention an excellent work done by the Japanese Foundation and the Embassy of Japan in Uzbekistan, which introduce us to remarkable visual material every year: several exhibitions of traditional and modern ceramics, dolls, posters and photographs organized in the halls of the Academy of Arts brought the joy of communication with high art and the culture of presenting exposition material.
Other events that have to be mentioned are the cycle of design exhibitions organized by the Embassies of Germany and France, the exhibitions of paintings and photographs offered to us by Latvian Embassy, and meetings of Korean and Uzbek artists that have already become a tradition.
In 2006 the most interesting dialogue-event was an exhibition called "Myth About Alexander" offered by Italian Embassy, which consisted of photographic materials from museum collections of Italy and original collections of the Antiquity heritage of Uzbekistan. In the framework of the exhibition archaeologists from Uzbekistan and Italy conducted seminars that were attended by Japanese colleagues; these seminars introduced us to new archaeological finds and hypotheses. The exhibition created an impetus for the subsequent and not less interesting exposition called "Buddhist Monuments in Uzbekistan".
Uzbekistan's folk art exhibition in France was another good event organized with assistance from the Municipality of the 11th District of Paris and Uzbek Embassy in 2005. Residents of Lyon and Beaujeancy were also introduced to the creative work of Uzbek traditional master-craftsmen. Unfortunately, such exchange exhibitions are rare and can be held only in the representative offices of Uzbekistan abroad, rather than in professional venues. Certainly, one would like to dream about an inter-museum dialogue as well.
There are many things one can dream about: a decent exhibition hall with conditions and equipment appropriate for museum practice; facilitation of asset storage and restoration workshop; computerized database for the collection; worthy replenishments for the collection; own publishing base; and future successors - specialists and professionals in love with challenging but wonderful museum work.