Russia Museum Controversy : No place for art in house of God


One of Russia’s leading museums face the danger of being thrown out to the street due to its conflict with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Perm / NationalTurk – Perm State Art Gallery has occupied Perm’s Holy Transfiguration Cathedral for nearly one century.

But now Perm diocese wants to return unto God that which is God’s – and it seems the move from the church is also supported by legal measures. A law passed in 2010 stipulates that religious property seized during the Communist era in the former USSR should be handed back to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian Orthodox Church to seize Perm State Art Gallery museum/cathedral back

The diocese insists on holding services in some of the Gallery’s rooms. Local art enthusiasts, backed by a newly-formed international committee, showed concern after several works of art had to be removed, to avoid damage from the candles used in the religous service.

The activists are not opposed to the return of the Cathedral to the Church. But they do point to a lack of clear-cut instructions or agreements on the transfer of religious property and eviction of organizations currently housed on site.

Holy Transfiguration Cathedral/ State Art Museum in Perm, city of Art

An article on the Perm diocese’s website dispels claims of any conflict, blaming “enemies of the Church” and media for blowing the situation out of proportion.

Known as “the Hermitage of the Urals”, Perm State Art Gallery boasts antiquities, folk art, 19th century avant-garde Russian paintings and rare wooden sculptures of Christ, indigenous to the region.

Regional authorities are eager to promote Perm as a potential European Capital for Culture, going as far as Brussels to argue their cause.

They claim to be close to an agreement with Swiss architect Peter Zumthor to design a new building for the Gallery, but workers worry they will be forced out of the Cathedral, long before the project is complete.