CIMAM (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art), a global network of museums and museum professionals, has raised the alarm over the removal of the Tretyakov Gallery’s director, Zelfira Tregulova, by the Russian culture ministry.
Early last month, the ministry replaced Tregulova in a move that aimed to create new programming that promoted the state’s “spiritual and moral values.” The ousting falls in line with a state agenda signed into law in November 2022 by Russian president Vladimir Putin that detailed a “strategic national priority” to promote “traditional” Russian culture.
Elena Pronicheva was instated as the museum’s new director, alarming international museum associations such as CIMAM, which promotes art as a means of fostering the social and economic well-being of nations. A statement co-published on Monday by CIMAM’s watch committee’s six members questioned Pronicheva’s qualifications for the directorship, a role typically designated for art historians. Pronicheva, the daughter of a top Russian military figure under Putin’s Federal Security Service (FSB), formerly served as the head of a Polytechnic museum in Moscow.
CIMAM, which is is affiliated with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and comprises museum leaders from Belgium, Poland, Doha and Singapore, detailed further concern over the state of Russia’s museum network following key departures at the Tregulova and the Hermitage State Museum, whose former director, Dmitry Oserkov, resigned in October 2022.
The group described the leadership changes at Russia’s state-run museums in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion as “troubling.” The statement condemned the public positioning of these institutions amid the war as continuing with “business as usual.”
“If art is instrumentalized to advance political agendas, it is relegated to other domains of culture, namely publicity, and propaganda,” the statement reads.
In an additional statement to ARTnews, Bart de Baere, head of the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen and chair of the CIMAM Museum Watch Committee, said that when directors of museums are not “field experts” the main concern is the “loss of art autonomy and authority of the museum.”
His statement described the nominations of “cultural managers or even state managers” in place of academic experts in key museum leadership positions by government authorities as a “broader phenomenon.”
Similarly unsettling politically-motivated leadership changes in museums have unfolded abroad. In December 2021, Poland’s culture minister appointed the conservative artist and musician Janusz Janowski to head Warsaw’s Zachęta National Gallery of Art, a controversial move that drew allegations of state interference in Poland’s cultural sector.