Putin bureaucrat will replace director of Russia’s Western art museum
The long-time director of Russia’s most important museum of Western art has been replaced by a former activist of a pro-Putin youth movement who keeps a portrait of Stalin in her office.
Marina Loshak, who left the Pushkin Art Museum after almost a decade in office, insisted it was her own decision.
Ms Loshak follows Zelfira Tregulova, former director of the Tretyakov Gallery, who was fired from her job last year, as the latest casualty in what appears to be a Kremlin effort to bring to heel Russia’s iconic art institutions.
The Pushkin Art Museum hosts an enviable collection of Western art - from Ancient Greek marbles to one of the world’s richest collections of Impressionists.
Before the war, some of Russia’s most conservative circles routinely accused Ms Loshak and the likes of promoting Western values harmful to Russia.
Ms Loshak, who is well-respected in the art world, has not publicly spoken out about the war in Ukraine but her daughter, a popular TV host, has been living in exile since her independent news channel was shut down by the Kremlin in the aftermath of the Ukrainian invasion.
Ms Loshak in recent years purged the museum’s leadership from Soviet-era appointees, bringing in younger, Western-educated staff and oversaw several blockbuster exhibitions of contemporary Western art including the 2019 show of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in collaboration with The Tate and a comprehensive exhibition of American visual artist Bill Viola in 2021.
Like other Russian arts institutions, the Pushkin Museum has faced a boycott in the West, with some of its most ambitious collaborations with Western museums suspended.
Art critic Irina Mak in a column for Russian website Republic on Tuesday speculated that the culture ministry likely “presented (Ms Loshak) with the tasks she would not sign on to under any circumstances”.
“Why would she do it anyway? A museum of Western art at a time of isolation from the world is a questionable endeavour,” Ms Mak said.
Portrait of Stalin
Ms Loshak was replaced by Elizaveta Likhacheva, a controversial arts manager, recently identified as an activist in a rabidly pro-Putin youth movement in the 2000s that among other things fought with “decadent” art.
Ms Likhacheva did not publicly voice her political views but she had a portrait of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin on the wall of her office when interviewed by reporters in 2018.
In another interview she complained about Moscow “snobs” who are too scared of engaging with the provinces.
The Pushkin Museum has been losing prominent staff members since Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine. Pavel Opredelenov, a deputy director, resigned shortly after the start of the war, saying his worldview “does not coincide” with those of Russia’s culture minister.
Several other deputies of Ms Loshak resigned from their positions and moved abroad without making public statements.