Tour included as part of the Art and Museums program – Summer 2017
Tucked neatly away within Staraya Derevnaya just outside the centre of Petersburg sits the Restoration and Storage Centre of the State Hermitage. While it may be only a short metro ride from the bustling Nevsky Prospekt, the Hermitage Storage Building itself is quiet and spacious, entirely free of the crowds that make the main Hermitage overwhelming. Its more peaceful air is due in part to its location outside of the town’s centre, but mainly comes from the Storage Centre only recently being opened for tours. It’s a new-found treasure.
All visitor tours are done pre-scheduled and with a guide; no self-guided or audio tours are an option in this building.This does raise the price of entry to 500 rubles, higher than some of the other Hermitage complex tickets. However, admission is free on the first Thursday of every month, and a tour is a part of the SRAS museums program. The employees in charge of leading tours are well-informed and well-rounded even in areas where they do not specialize and do make fun companions, so everyone being mandatorily accompanied is hardly a drawback.
Inside the storage centre, photographs of the art are forbidden, but even without taking home a picture, the exhibits are hard to forget. As its name would suggest, the Storage Centre contains all of the art pieces which the Hermitage owns but does not currently have out on display. It also houses everything the Hermitage owns but would not display, such as Russian art from almost any given century after the 14th, large and complex furniture not originally housed in the Winter Palace, and carriages of the tsars. While the Hermitage Winter Palace complex is focused on European art and the collection of the tsars through the 1700s onward, the Storage Building contains a sampling of everything else that the largest and best-funded museum in Russia could possibly grab throughout its history. Since the selection is so vast, tours can offer general overviews of the enormous collection as well as the ability to stop by art that interests the tour group, be it specific eras (modern, tsarist, archaeological), mediums (paintings, furniture, tapestries), or subjects (iconography, realism, historical, etc.). These can be decided when calling to arrange the tour or during its duration if something catches a visitor’s eyes.
These tours are not typical museum tours. While Storage Building tours tend to move quickly as security does not encourage dallying for too long in one room, the tours are very easily customized and art is far less removed from the viewer, the experience seems more personal. For example, the storage room for icons contains 13th century frescoes uncovered in the city of Pskov’. Done in the traditional northern style, they are stored at eye level and where workers can easily access them. Most frescoes are displayed far above the usual line of sight in their original locations, or held back behind glass. The experience at the Storage Building is extremely intimate with the art and encourages an entirely different kind of interaction. While the Winter Palace Hermitage dazzles visitors with gilded lines and fabulous paintings, inspiring awe as to the breadth of its collection and the glamour of the tsars, the Storage Complex offers a familiar view, the scene of priceless art contained within a workplace, inspiring the idea of art as something living that must be interacted with on a human level.
Fine art is commonly and rightfully elevated above the everyday. The grandiosity of museum architecture reminds people that they are viewing the works of masters and the works on display are part of a great cultural heritage. While this view is deserved and accurate, it does make art seem entirely unapproachable to the layperson, something that exists but, once the painter or sculptor is finished, it remains held lofty on a museum wall somewhere to be untouched and never removed from its frame or otherwise interacted with outside of being looked at. Seeing art from the perspective of a storage area reminds us that art is very much alive. Art needs to be maintained, art needs to be worked with, even the classic paintings have people working behind them. The storage building humanizes the museum process, offering a fascinating glimpse behind the outer gilding of the Hermitage and reminding visitors that there is more to art and more to museums than admiring a piece in a golden frame.
Primarily, the complex is a storage area for the Hermitage, but its collection is much more vast in scope than the Hermitage would generally find itself displaying. It contains architecture that would not belong in the Hermitage’s rooms, and paintings by Russians that do not fall in the Hermitage’s European-only galleries. As such, the Storage Complex commonly lends its works out to other museums in Petersburg should they have a special event where the work fits in or is necessary. In this way, the Storage Building functions somewhat more like an accessible collection for many of the Petersburg museums, despite all contents being owned by the Hermitage alone.
It makes for an eclectic mix. The museum complex holds a dash of everything, from a piece of contemporary Muscovite art to Peter the Great’s undershirts. It’s a unique experience and a worthwhile one, with something for everyone and often something interesting hiding behind the next industrial corner.
Staraya Derevnaya Restoration and Storage Centre
37A, Zausadebnaya Street
Hours: Wed-Sun 11-13:00, 13:30-15:30