Inside the Artist's Studio

How do you keep the spirit of the artist alive in your studio museum?

The occasional series 'Inside the Artist's Studio' asks curators from across the Artist's Studio Museum Network how they approach challenges specific to curating the studio museum. Today, Yuliya Kudryavtseva, Head of the Korin Art Research Department at the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, provides the first answer.

Saving the aura of private home is one of the hardest tasks for house museums. Too often saving this aura straightforwardly conflicts with safety demands and with visitor convenience. It is a fully understandable wish to shut the exhibits in glass cases, and to adapt the home for the larger number of guests it will receive. But, as we all understand, that will kill house museums, will leave them without this special feeling, that enchants people coming in.

The House Museum of Pavel Korin

Our museum was a special case from the beginning. Not really unique, but quite rare among museums, at least Russian ones. The Museum of Pavel Korin was created right after death of the artist, and his widow – Praskovia Korina – continued to live there. Practically, then, the house didn't stop being a living one for another twenty five years.

Praskovia Korina became a director and the chief curator of the museum. The house itself was divided in two parts – the exhibition house, and the living one.

Of course, it was necessary to make certain changes to the exhibition part, to adapt rooms to museum specifications. But serious changes were made only in utility rooms; in most of the others they were minimized (alarms, sensors, etc.). For example, the joinery workshop, where stretchers, boards and tools were kept, was converted into an exhibition hall. The corner behind the stairs to the attic was equipped with a security post and fire protection, out of the way of the public.

The artist's widow, Praskovia Korina, talks to visitors

At this point, visiting the museum was possible only through guided tour, and that allowed us to minimize intrusive safety measures. There was no need for glass cases or fences. Visitors left their outerwear in the same hallway as Korin did, and continued with the excursion feeling more like guests then foreign visitors. Besides, Praskovia Korina often came out from the 'living house' during their visits, talked with them and answered their questions.

After the death of Praskovia Korina, the museum was headed by the niece of the artist – an employee of the Tretyakov Gallery, Olga Korina. But that never brought any big changes in the work of the museum. It continued working in the same way, and the 'living' rooms that were used by Praskovia Korina stayed (and remain) unavailable to visitors. In those rooms were a few thousand of Korin's works of art, owned by his widow – the main collection of Korin's graphics works, and part of his icon collection. And so started a long-term project to catalogue and accession those items into the museum collection.

The transition from living home to Tretyakov-managed museum

With delicate management and leadership Olga Korina managed to keep the family atmosphere that had existed when the widow of the artist was still there.

I think three things helped to save that aura of the living house in the museum of Korin.

First –the full absence of every detail pointing at the fact that this is a museum. There are no arrows, stands, barriers or labels. Sure, not having labels is inconvenient for visitors. But sometimes it's impossible to place them in an interior delicately enough. And since there were only guided tours, the guide took on the responsibility of introducing everything and answering any question.

Secondly – the environment itself, in which the presence of the host was saved in every little detail. Books standing in the bookcases not in a beautiful order, but for ease of reaching the most used ones. Scratches on the floor from the easel; magazines placed not as for exhibition, but lying in one pile, as they were placed by Korin. And a lot more of the small details that distinguish a living home from a museum.

Thirdly – the museum staff. It's a small team, but the staff are all people that don't just simply come to work, but have their lives filled with this house and concern fort it. They became a part of it and fill it with a living warmness that maintains the aura that was here when the real owners were still alive.

The museum managed to save the atmosphere of the house, at the expense of some visitor convenience. But it's compensated for by the possibility of immersing yourself into the saved feeling of living home. And every guest left us with happy feeling, without any single complaint about the absence of a café.

The private study of Pavel Korin at the House Museum

Currently, the museum is closed for reconstruction. When it is finished, we will be able to finally open for visitors the living rooms of the Korin family, the dining room and the bedroom. Also we plan to review our infrastructure and add some things for visitor comfort, but we are not planning to add anything to the memorial parts, but rather to create a separate space. We hope to find the needed balance that will be good for guests and in the same time won't ruin the atmosphere of the house.

Inside the Artist's Studio

This piece is part of our series 'Inside the Artist's Studio'. We asked curators from studio museums across Europe to respond to the question 'How do you keep the artist's spirit alive in your studio museum?'

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