Posted 29 ноября 2022,, 10:40

Published 29 ноября 2022,, 10:40

Modified 24 декабря 2022,, 22:38

Updated 24 декабря 2022,, 22:38

Abduction of Our Lady: "If someone dares to steal from a museum, it's 100% commissioned"

Abduction of Our Lady: "If someone dares to steal from a museum, it's 100% commissioned"

29 ноября 2022, 10:40
Novye Izvestia continues to investigate the abduction of the Shuya Icon of the Mother of God from the State Historical Museum.

This time we asked art critics and antique dealers to explain how this is possible at all - in the age of all-penetrating video cameras from the very center of the capital, where every brick is guarded, disappears without a trace.

Who is guilty of stealing Our Lady of Shuya from the center of Moscow?

Yulia Suntsova, Natalya Seybil

- The famous theft and theft of their own employees is one opera, and yet I am convinced that they are not of a systemic nature. Museum workers are like a religion. When I, as a student, had an internship at the same Historical Museum, folders with chromolithographs that had not yet been cataloged lay in huge piles. If I were a dishonest person, nothing would prevent me from taking out some pretty engraving. Just a pack, and there are a few copies of something unaccounted for in it. No one would have noticed the theft, and it would not have been a particular disaster. Of course, there were cases when in the Hermitage, in museums around the country, the curators replaced something.

Nevertheless, I cannot say that all the bells should be ringed and that some kind of uncontrollable antique mafia is running rampant in our country - this is not the case. “Museum people are generally very dedicated to their profession”, - says the source, an art historian and antiquary who agreed to speak to NI on confidentiality terms.

The interlocutor explains: when thefts are committed in museums, especially with such extensive collections as in the Hermitage or the State Historical Museum, it is rather difficult to detect them. And to discover immediately - from the realm of fantasy.

- Museum storage - a huge number of exhibits. The expositions that we see are not even the tip of the iceberg of what is stored in the funds. A large museum can be compared to a large library. If you put a book on the wrong shelf, it will be almost impossible to find it, consider that it is gone. The same thing could happen with the Shuya icon.

Or something else could happen - and the worst fears come true. Recall that the audit of storage facilities and reconciliation of 30 thousand storage units in February-May 2019 "did not bring a positive result," as the director of the Historical Museum Alexei Levykin himself said . A four-year law enforcement investigation is also stalling. One of the negative factors was the erased files from the museum's CCTV cameras. The vanished videos captured exactly the period - the end of 2018, when the icon was allegedly stolen.

"The problem of theft to order has been relevant since Soviet times. That is why the loss is not detected in time and then the exhibit is not looked for - someone knows the inner workings too well. Do you think it's so easy to dare to steal from a church or a museum? Yes, but only if you are 100% sure of the “roof”, and this is the order. Such crimes are practically not disclosed", - says the expert of the antiques market Sergey Koronevsky.

- "NI": Maybe the problem is that the exhibit storage system is far from perfect?

"Koronevsky: Now there is almost no such problem. Previously, definitely. The confusion in the catalogs (and when you still have everything on paper) is the first ally of thieves. But now every museum already has a computer base, it absorbs the full array - what is available and where it is, and what is suddenly missing, and the comparison takes place in seconds", - the expert explains.

As in the Soviet Union, and now the disclosure of the crime of embezzlement in museums depends on who the customer is. How strong he is, rich, with whom he is connected. A typical customer expects to sell stolen goods in the west, where the main means of selling antiques is auction. Very often items can be found at Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips and so on.

But a significant part also settles in “Russian houses”. As before, so now there is a certain “honor” of these kidnappers. If the exhibit failed to sell, it is “returned”: thrown on the thresholds of museums, left in sports bags nearby or in bags in garbage cans. With small museums it is more difficult. Items are rarely returned to them, sums up Koronevsky.

- The problem of such huge museums as the State Historical Museum is something else.

"90%-95% of items will never see the light of day, will never be exhibited. It is very expensive to keep them, and a large number of things, to be honest, are not of a museum level. At the beginning of the 2000s, due to periodic thefts from funds, heated discussions unfolded - or maybe museums should already be allowed to sell their objects that have settled in funds?", - says Alexei Shurshakov, antiques appraiser.

The public was offended. The people are accustomed to trust museums, to give them their "treasures". In addition, museums need to master the amount allocated for the purchase of exhibits, otherwise the state will send less money next year. Accordingly, blood from the nose, you need to spend everything. Crazy trips to antique shops usually begin at the end of the year. Time is running out, in a month or two you need to find as much as you didn’t find in a whole year. In such turmoil, it doesn’t matter anymore whether what is found is a museum-level item or an ordinary level - such is their mountain.

It turns out that for the antique market - where this trifle is more or less in demand - everything lost, but people will never see it in the halls of museums. Well, a "third way" is being invented. Employees with modest salaries find it hard to resist the temptation. A person sits on billions and understands that this is practically an “unaccounted for” ...

- "NI": Digitalization of museum collections solves the problem of theft?

- Shurshakov: This is not enough. Many problems cannot be solved by this measure alone. Fake write-offs. Difficulty in determining the authenticity of the belonging of objects. Employee incompetence.

- "NI": Can you give examples?

- Shurshakov: As much as you like. For example, in the Historical Museum there is a department of weapons. It has already been digitized. Common Cossack checkers. Their price bar is 60-80 thousand rubles (if everything is in place, the handle, sheath, blade are in good condition). There are packs of these checkers in the museum. Everything is taken into account. But at some point, “moisture gets in”, and a couple of checkers “rust”. There is no point in restoring, they are massive, they were bought not for 80 thousand, but for 20. Restoration will cost the same, why bother? Checkers are written off, a call is thrown, they are immediately carried a couple of dozen, of which the best pair is chosen. The museum buys it for 20 thousand, and the person who writes it off will sell them later for 60 thousand, for 50, if necessary quickly. It is impossible to check anything - all these checkers look the same.

A couple of years ago, I was approached from one fund - they lost Brezhnev's pipe. A smoking pipe given to him by some factory workers. It is not smoky, there are no supporting documents that belonged to Brezhnev. She disappeared at the same time as the employee who quit. Everyone knows that he took her, but it is impossible to prove. In 2019, the pipe was found while trying to sell it to antique shops and at auctions. True, no one needed it - as an artistic value it is of no interest and there is no provenance (confirmed history of ownership).

Another huge problem is the ignorance of objects by museum workers. Funds are constantly being cleaned. Some decayed things that cannot be described and exhibited in the halls are disposed of. I witnessed the loss of the signed bed of the crossbow of Peter I. It was accidentally found by a random person in a pile of garbage - it was disposed of! The box has been restored and is now on display.

In another year, preparations were made for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino. I was working in an antique gun shop, and a man brought in a St. George weapon. I went to the weapons department of the Historical Museum to write out a conclusion. No one who knew the weapon had any doubts about the authenticity and rarity of the item, it was known to whom the weapon belonged. The expert of the museum, without even taking it in hand, shouted: “Bullshit!”. The argument shocked me: “There is no such thing in our museum, so this is bullshit!”

What really competent person will go to work for a penny salary? I know many who went to work for foundations, gained knowledge, received their own license from Rosokhrankultura and set sail for free swimming, you can already get good money for such expertise. Museums are forbidden to give commercial expert assessments.

- "NI"? And what is the “problem” of the Shuya Icon of the Mother of God? It’s not a trifle that’s been lying around and it’s difficult to fake. Why was she so vulnerable?

"Shurshakov: The Shuya icon is, of course, an explicit order. The problem is old and, unfortunately, systemic . The item goes into the collection and disappears for decades. Customers “do not shine them”, they understand that things are unique, loud, their appearance is closely watched. I learned about this problem in the early 2000s. Then some provincial cadres were still stupid. I remember when the Yelets Museum was well “enclosed”, the objects were first taken out for use. A silver ashtray appeared in the director's office, but then it was replaced with a simpler one. Where the original went is a mystery, shrouded in darkness, it will never return. Much is written off as lost, but in fact goes to the black market. If these exhibits are not found by customs officers when they are taken abroad, write - it's gone. And it makes sense to export only objects of a high artistic level abroad, ordinary ones - it makes no sense, in Russia they can be sold more expensive", - says the appraiser.