Viatcheslav Kantor’s Address at the Opening of the Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery Exhibition My Homeland Is Within My Soul: Art Without Borders

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Mr. President,

Mr. Director-General,


Distinguished guests,

I’m happy to welcome you to the opening of the first exhibition of the museum of avant-garde mastery. Our museum was founded ten years ago, and from the outset we have followed a clear concept.

Three principles were important to me. One, I wanted to collect art that was linked with Russia; two, art produced by Jewish artists; and three, art of the twentieth century – innovative and revolutionary art.

It is in this broad sense that I understand the word “avant-garde,” the word that is in the name of our museum.

These three dimensions are part of the collection formula that I have formulated for myself as a person born in Russia in the twentieth century and as a Jew working in the interests of his people – now in the capacity of president of the European Jewish congress.

From the very beginning we aimed to purchase only top-grade artworks worthy of the high status of a museum collection. This formula has proved correct.

I confess that the importance of the result was a surprise to me too. Contribution made by Jewish artists of Russia to twentieth-century art was hard to imagine. Many of them, like Rothko and Nevelson, came as a discovery to us. After all, few people remember that they were born in shtetls of the Russian empire.

We have rediscovered for Russia names that had become associated with other countries.

Similarly, we have shown those countries that their local heroes were Jews from Russia. I believe that many Geneva residents will be surprised to learn that the sculpture on the Montblanc bridge is a work of Antoine Pevsner, who was born in Klimovichi, or that the great French sculptor Ossip Zadkine, whose works are on public view in Geneva in the alley named after him, was born in Smolensk.

There are many examples of this type.

We can recall Jacques Lipchitz and Sonia Delaunay, the cream of Ecole de Paris. Another example is Marc Chagall, who discovered a new painterly for European art, or Chaim Soutine, who can be called the founder of postwar expressionism.

It is a recognized fact that his highly expressive and sincere art inspired Pollock, de Kooning and Bacon.

In other words, the narrow focus we chose, that is, summarizing and understanding the contribution of Jewish artists to the development of art in the past century, has produced an important result.

What we have is a collection that brilliantly illustrates a revolution in 20th century art.

Our museum really represents art without borders.

These artworks were born out of the dialogue of cultures: Russian, Jewish, and the cultures of those peoples and countries which became the second home to our artists.

In a broader context, they are a result of the Christian-Jewish dialogue, which, to my mind, is the lifeblood of 20th century art.

We should give credit to the good judgment and public warmth of those countries which accepted Russian Jews and helped them realize their creative potential, enabling former outcasts to become top-class European or American artists.

The collection has now grown to such proportions that it can speak for itself. What it says is that the energy of fair and free creativity, which can only thrive in an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding and mutual respect between people of different ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds, carries the promise of great success.

This truth is self-evident and has been stated on more than one occasion, but, as the saying goes, better seen than heard. We all know that Schindler’s list and The pianist have made a far greater impact on public mentality than any governmental or civic organization. They appeal directly to our emotions, to what brings all of us together and to what makes us human.

It is for this reason that I view art as not just evidence in favor of tolerance, but also as a strong force that can help build a tolerant society. It was this idea that gave the start to our exhibition program.

It so happened that our first display takes place at the time of an economic crisis, which always leads to worsening social, political and human conflicts.

However, today, when everyone is on edge and looking for the scapego, it is the right time to remind people that Russia is more than a source of oil and gas – it is also the homeland of a highest human potential. We must also show that one can see Jews not as the cause of financial crisis, but as pioneers who have made some of the greatest revolutions in art.

It is my sincere hope that after seeing the exhibition every visitor will say, “I have discovered a Russia I never knew before.” Perhaps, this would be the best tribute to the work done by the museum over the past years.

I am very grateful to all those who have helped make this project a reality. Above all to the United Nations office in Geneva and its Director-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze for making this event possible.

I would also like to thank the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Мinister Lavrov personally for their invaluable support to our initiative.

We are also grateful to Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and Mr. Valery Loshchinin for their kind assistance.

I am happy to see our museum’s first exhibition open here, in the League of Nations Museum of the Palace of Nations. The United Nations was established shortly after the Second World War to help humanity get rid forever of xenophobia and religious and ethnic hatred.

That is why this place is perfectly attuned to the philosophy of our museum.

This philosophy of tolerance is well illustrated by our collection of masterpieces that were produced by Russian Jews and became part of world history. It is a tolerant environment that promotes art and vice versa. This is the specific message which our museum is sending humanity, and I will be happy if this message is heard.