Kyrgyz National Museum of Visual Art/Кыргызский Национальний Музей Изобразительных Искусств
196 Советская ул.
Hours: 10-17:00, Fridays 10-16, Closed on Mondays
Tickets: Regular 130 som, Student 20 som
The Kyrgyz Art Museum on Sovietskaya, just across from the opera house, is a two-story building full of traditional Kyrgyz arts, contemporary art styles, and traveling exhibits. Today was the second time I visited the museum for a number of solid reasons. I was nearby, it’s inexpensive, and I really enjoyed it the first time.
As you walk into the Art Museum, even before you’ve realized that the касса (ticket desk) is located to off to the left and behind you, you’re assaulted by color. The main lobby is full of tables of local artists and craftspeople, who have тапочки (slippers), scarves, bags, wall-hangings, miniature yurts, and a number of other kinds of souvenirs out on display. After you get your ticket you can poke through their beautiful wares and try to justify a craft purchase because your student ID means admission only cost you 40 cents.
After looking at all the pretty souvenirs, you can move to the right into the first exhibit, a room full of Kyrgyz crafts isolated from the rest of the collection. Most are presented without comment or even those little date plates. They leave you guessing. That pretty round cloth with the ropes, another woman visiting the museum tells her friend it’s an old-fashioned saddle. There’s a pair of pants, a skirt, and lengths of embroidered and embellished fabric. It’s not a huge room, and when you’ve finished there, you exit the way you entered, back into the vendors’ lobby.
To get to the main museum from the lobby, head up the stairs opposite the front door. They’ve got a huge flower mosaic behind them – snap a shot and then put your camera away for the rest of the tour, or the babushka-security guards will be very unhappy with you.
The second floor of the museum has the main collection of art and artifacts. In this open space at the top of the stairs, there are a number of standing display cases that showcase Kyrgyz art and jewelry from a variety of time periods.
The walls are covered in patterned Kyrgyz felt rugs, called ala-kiyiz or shyrdak (the name depends on which labor-intensive process created them). They can be incredibly ornate or fairly simple, and though they range in color, most are red and blue or combinations of red, blue, green, and brown. This form of Kyrgyz art was recently added to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding as they “provide Kyrgyz people… with a sense of identity and continuity linked to their nomadic lifestyle.”
Off to your left is the medium-sized travelling exhibition hall. The current exhibit in this room is a collection of Japanese Dolls and prints – and in this room, photography is permitted and encouraged. To the right and behind the stairs is room with another collection of Kyrgyz wall hangings. Most are contemporary pieces done in homage to traditional styles. This room also connects to another hall full of beautiful landscape paintings, but that hall is currently closed.
In the hall at the top of the stairs off to the right is the entrance to a very large hall of 20th century Kyrgyz paintings and a few sculptures. This hall is probably one of my favorite parts of the museum. It’s got a number of beautiful paintings depicting a world away from Bishkek (picture a few people standing next to a tan yurt, dwarfed by what is probably the Tian Shan mountain range). There are benches in front of those paintings so you can take a seat and lose yourself for a bit. This room also includes a number of paintings with titles that generally made me want to go home and research the region’s history. There’s one from 1933 that shows a crowd of people being herded by men on horseback through village streets. A man in foreground restrains his friend who is visibly angry. The title is «После Восстания» or “After the Uprising.” There’s a scene from 1930 entitled «Возвращение из красной армии» (“Return from the Red Army”) with a young man in uniform, standing in a village amongst a group of happy faces. One of my favorites in this room is a beautifully simple 1933 portrait of a red-cheeked Central Asian girl. Her head is wrapped in a dull yellow scarf that winds down around her shoulders and she watches something out of the corner of her eyes, maybe a little suspiciously. Amongst a collection of works with very descriptive and sometimes lengthy titles, hers fits her simplicity – «Комсомолка» (“Komsomol Girl.”) There are a number of other portraits from the 20th century, many with familiar names because they now have their own streets in central Bishkek. It’s a great combination of scenic, historic, and still-life paintings, making it definitely the longest stop in the overall museum excursion.
Before leaving the museum, if you have time, check out the auditorium off of the center of the main ground floor lobby. During my first visit I passed it over, but on my second, I was drawn in by the echoes of shouting and applause. The approximately 150-person venue was having a gigantic, multi-round arm wrestling tournament. While an unexpected stop on my museum tour, the contest was a funny ending to a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.