Stalin consolidated his 1950's post-war power by declaring all modernist art “decadent” and “bourgeois.” Those caught practicing it were sent to the gulag, or executed.
So archaeologist Igor Savitsky began his heroic quest to save 44,000 pieces of forbidden art from the masters of Russian modernism by squirreling them away in an Uzbek museum, far from the eyes of the KGB.
When the USSR disintegrated, it seemed the collection would endure. But under an increasingly autocratic Uzbek regime, the museum’s newfound notoriety may be double-edged. Can these masterpieces survive their second threat in a century?
To learn more about the museum and art works, watch The Desert of Forbidden Art on Independent Lens.
"Crimson Autumn" by Ural Tansykbaev, 1931
“Bearded Man” by Ural Tansykbaev
"Head" by Lyubov Popova, 1920
“Houses” by Lyubov Popova, 1914
“Basmach Man” (Bandit) by Alexey Podkovyrov, 1920
“Caravan” by Alexander Volkov, 1926
“Green Teahouse” by Alexander Volkov
“Arba” (Cart) by Alexander Volkov, 1924
“Constructing a Road” by Nikolay Karakahn, 1932
“Instrument Makers” by Alexander Nikolaev
“Road of Life and Death” by Alexander Nikolaev, 1924
“On His Knees” by Lev Galperin
“The Old and the New” by Solomon Nikritin, 1935
“The Bull” by Vladimir Lysenko
"Self Portrait" by Vladimir Lysenko
“Arba” (Cart) by Mikhail Kurzin, 1920s
“Apocalypse” by Alexey Rybnikov, 1918
Igor Savitsky, Founder of the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art. Photograph by Militza Zemskaya
Artists Alexander Volkov and Ural Tansykbaev, 1920s
Group photo of the artists represented in the Savitsky Collection, Tashkent, Uzbekistan 1930s (Alexander Volkov at top, Nikolay Karakhan top right, bottom right Ural Tansykbaev
Socialist realist artists at work, by Max Penson
Igor Savitsky’s single-handedly created the State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan in Nukus, Uzbekistan. He began his collection with traditional clothing and textiles created by the Uzbek people in the region, and moved on to collect the works of indigenous artists as well as the underground art of the Uzbekistan school, which melded Asian influences with European expressionism. Ultimately he would make six 1,700-mile trips (each way) to and from Moscow to rescue the avant-garde work of Russian painters whose art was considered degenerate by the Soviet regime. The state preferred “Soviet realism” for propaganda.
In what is now known as the Karakalpak Museum of the Arts, the Savitsky Collection faces a race against time and the elements to survive.