The news was published on Al Jazeera’s website and was relayed by the assistant editor of Artnet News, Henri Neuendorf, who spiked our curiosity. The second biggest collection of Russian avant-garde works worldwide is housed in the museum in Nukus, a little known town with a population of 250,000 in the west of Uzbekistan, 810 km from Tashkent. Nukus is an ancient gateway to the Atal seal, close to the historic town of Kounya-Ourguentch, which was devastated by Gengis Khan in 1220 and which is located in modern-day Turkmenistan.
The Savitsky Collection, which was assembled patiently by Igor Savitsky, a man of culture who was born in Kiev and who went to the region in the 1950s on an archaeological and ethnographic expedition, is believed to be worth over $1 billion. Fascinated by the people of the steppes and their culture, Igor Savitsky decided to settle in Nukus at the end of the expedition that took him there in 1957. Over the space of several decades he reunited in Uzbekistan thousands of objects and works of art, including jewellery, old textiles, and paintings from the 1920s and 1930s. He also decided to create the Karakalpak Museum of Arts to provide a home for the collection and a place for the public to see his treasures.
Today, as art lovers the world over are taking an increasing interest in the Russian avant-garde – for example, the exhibition Malevich, Revolutionary of Russian Art at the Tate last year was a huge success – the fact that the second biggest collection of Russian avant-garde* works has been found in a small town in Uzbekistan is somewhat astounding. And yet, we have to admire Igor Savitsky’s celerity and temerity in saving “full railroad wagons loads of works”** by Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, and others Marc Chagall, which were hidden by people close to the artists during the Soviet era. Without Stavitsky’s help, those works would probably have disappeared.
* After the Russian museum in Saint-Petersburg, which is the biggest Russian fine arts museum.
** According to Valentina Sycheva, the museum’s chief curator.