The Amsterdam museum breaks ties with the Russian Hermitage and closes the current exhibition


Queen Beatrix and President Putin unveil a commemorative plaque at the Hermitage Amsterdam in 2013Image ANP/AFP

The decision by the Hermitage Amsterdam comes after it broke up with the Amsterdam Museum on Wednesday. The city museum is undergoing renovation and would open a temporary collection presentation on Saturday in a wing of the Hermitage Amsterdam. However, the Amsterdam museum considers a festive opening inappropriate in light of the war in Ukraine.

The city museum also criticized the relationship between the Hermitage Amsterdam and Russia. They are ‘undeniably present’ and ‘too obscure’, says Judikje Kiers, director of the Amsterdam Museum. “The Hermitage has not been able to allay our concerns about this. It is also a reason why we are suspending the opening and the opening of the Amsterdam Museum wing of the Hermitage building.’

This led to emergency consultations at the Hermitage Amsterdam. On Thursday, the museum issued a press release stating that it is severing ties with Saint Petersburg and that the current exhibition, Russian avant-garde – Revolution in art, is closed until further notice. It would run until January 8, 2023.

In the press release, Hermitage Amsterdam states that it has long kept aloof from the political developments in ‘Putin’s Russia’. But the attack on Ukraine “makes this remoteness no longer tenable.” According to the board and the supervisory board, the raid has crossed a line. ‘The Hermitage Amsterdam has no other choice. Like everyone else, we hope for peace. And for future changes in Russia that will allow us to restore ties with the Hermitage St. Petersburg.’

Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema said she supports the museum’s ‘drastic choice’. ‘We are very happy to think about the future use of the Hermitage, while at the same time preserving the museum’s great importance for the city.’

The future in danger

With the severance of all ties, the museum is jeopardizing its own future: there is a chance that the Hermitage in St. Petersburg no longer wants to cooperate, even though it receives a small part of every entrance ticket sold in the Netherlands.

The director of the Russian Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, has a good relationship with Putin. Last year he was a list pusher for his party in the elections to the Duma, the Russian parliament. He was also involved in constitutional changes that Putin sought in 2020.

The Russian president has been ‘my man’ since the early 1990s, the museum director told last September The art newspaper. “He’s from St. Petersburg. He had about the same job I had. We both worked for St. Petersburg’s reputation. So he’s really closer to me than many others.’

Breaking all ties is a change of course for Hermitage Amsterdam. Initially, the museum issued a brief statement saying it was “appalled” by the invasion of Ukraine and condemned it. But the increasing criticism and the break with the Amsterdam Museum have apparently changed the management of the Eremitage Amsterdam.

Sjeng Scheijen, the exhibition’s independent curator Russian avant-garde – Revolution in art, had expressed his opinion immediately after the invasion of Ukraine. The Dutchman speaks on his Twitter account of a ‘criminal war’ and calls Putin a ‘Poetler’, a reference to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

The temporary termination of the relationship with Saint Petersburg is another blow for Hermitage Amsterdam. It was hit extra hard by the corona pandemic because it does not receive an annual grant. Thanks to donations from private individuals, contributions from the government and BankGiro Loterij and budget cuts, the museum managed to survive. Eleven employees were made redundant, almost a quarter of the staff.

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