Viatcheslav Kantor’s Address at the Press Conference to Introduce the Exhibition My Homeland Is Within My Soul: Art Without Borders of the Museum of Avant-garde Mastery to be opened in Geneva

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Welcome and thank you for coming. We wanted to give you some background about the first public exhibition of the collection belonging to the Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery, a collection that was built up over the past ten years.

From the very beginning, we used a systematic approach to creating a collection of the highest quality. We wanted it to be very Russian, very Jewish and truly outstanding. I believe that our ten-year work has been a success. However, our motivation changed a lot while our efforts progressed. Originally the idea was to make something unique that had never been seen before in Russia or elsewhere. It is no secret that anti-Russian sentiment has been very strong in many spheres, including the arts, science and business. So originally we wanted to demonstrate that Russia is not just a source of hydrocarbons; it is also a major contributor to our global heritage. An illustrative example of its contribution is the work of outstanding Jewish artists of the 20th century, who belong to the avant-garde as it is broadly defined. It took us just a year to work out the precise formula of the Museum’s collection. There are hundreds of 20th century painters of Jewish origin who lived in Russia and made extraordinary contribution to the arts. We had to be very consistent in our selection. With the help of art historians, we finally selected, as in Pushkin’s tale, our 33 mighty knights – 33 painters who made fundamental contribution to the arts.

The formula behind MAGMA’s collection is as logical as Mendeleev’s periodic table. In fact, we were amazed by its consistency. The Museum’s collection is as diverse as Jews are. These painters were of Jewish origin, they were born in Russia and spread out all over the world. We have Americans: Mark Rothko and Louise Nevelson; Europeans: Antoine Pevsner, Jacques Lipchitz, Sonia Delaunay; and Russians – Shteinberg and Tyshler, who left Russia only to return and remain Russians.

On the other hand, looking at the wide geography of the collection, we came to realize something really important, something very right. Jews who follow tradition ask G-d every day in their prayers to teach them the path of G-d. I am not an ideal Jew, but I follow the tradition, and I think I saw a sign that we were on the right path. As we continued with the collection, its underlying ideology emerged. The foundation of MAGMA’s collection is the concept of a tolerant society. This collection is the embodiment of the productive power of a tolerant society. It shows that tolerance encourages the development of the arts.

Let’s take École de Paris. Its name does not reflect its essence, as the school included Diego Rivera from Latin America, Europeans like Modigliani, Foujita and Russians. I believe that 80% of Ecole de Paris artists were Russians, including Antoine Pevsner, Jacques Lipchitz, Sonia Delaunay, Marc Chagall, Léon Bakst and others. This art movement is a model of a truly tolerant society. The fact is, few people in Russia know that these were Russian painters – and this is yet another revelation of MAGMA’s collection. We realize that, and we realize that we have to promote their art in Russia.

On the other hand, the artists I named are known as outstanding nationals of France, America, etc. Nobody knows they were Russians. We wanted the Museum’s collection to be an eye-opener, but it had to be really outstanding. If it were not outstanding, our message would have never been heard.

I hope our message is heard. It is so, for today the Museum keeps the best collection of works by Chaïm Soutine, Tyshler, Sonia Delaunay, Leon Bakst, Jacques Lipchitz, Ossip Zadkine, famous works by Chagall, and so on. The power of their masterpieces makes anyone, anyone with an unbiased vision, see the ideology behind the collection, which is tolerance.

I am a very lucky man. I am a businessman and I am a public figure. My duty is to protect the interest of what I call the Jewish Street, as I am the president of the European Jewish Congress. This organization represents two and a half million Jews living in 42 European states. My work in this capacity is time-consuming and very hard. Still, I do have time for the Museum and its collection. I believe that all parts of my professional life are harmonized – they supplement each other and benefit from each other. The past few years have convinced me that the issue of tolerance in society, both Russian and Jewish, is as important as the Iranian nuclear issue. Xenophobia in Europe and Russia has reached a very high level, and this threat is now at least comparable to the nuclear threat. I believe that the Museum and its collection are crucial tools in promoting tolerance. There is no language barrier to art, and it conveys a message of tolerance that everyone can hear.