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    800 years from Russia with love

    The Florida International Museum hopes a 2003 show will draw on the popularity of Treasures of the Czars.

    By LENNIE BENNETT
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 17, 2002


    ST. PETERSBURG -- First, you should know what the new Russian exhibit at Florida International Museum will not be. It will not be another Treasures of the Czars, the blockbuster exhibition in 1995 that set high expectations, often unmet, for subsequent shows at the museum.

    It will be smaller, say museum officials. But better, they insist.

    They met this week with several top officials from the State Russian Museum to select more than 250 objects that will be part of the exhibition spanning 800 years of Russian history. It is scheduled to open early next year and run through early summer.

    "This should be different from the first one," said Dr. Eugenia Petrova, deputy director of the museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. "We will give you treasures of the czars, but not only that."

    A large central gallery at the museum totaling 10,000 square feet will be divided into eight smaller galleries re-creating scenes from daily life in Russia, from the grand to the humble, beginning with a 12th century monastery and monk's cabin.

    Two of the galleries will be dedicated to Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, including clothing, furniture and personal possessions. Another gallery will be set up to resemble a portion of the White Hall from the Mikhailovsky Palace, decorated with 19th century porcelains. Another will showcase religious icons, vestments and artifacts.

    Other galleries will compare the life of a nobleman and that of a peasant and present the great ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, with original costumes and paintings of set designs.

    "We could do an entire show on any one of these subjects," said Florida International Museum director Richard Johnston. "And in the future, we hope to do more specific ones. But this is an important overview of Russian culture."

    Even though the space is about one-third of that devoted to Treasures of the Czars, the number of objects is about the same. And they cover 500 more years.

    But like the first show, this one will confirm the love of opulence among the aristocracy and those they favored, such as the golden chalice presented by Ivan the Terrible to a monastery in Novgorod in 1574, and a crown worn by a minor Romanov encrusted with diamonds, precious gems and enamels.

    Many of the items can be classified as fine decorative arts -- furniture, candelabra, table settings, for example, and more simple folk art; most of the paintings are 19th century genre paintings or portraits. The museum is lending many items of clothing, despite the fragility of fiber, and is allowing them to be modeled on figures in realistic tableaux rather than sheathed in glass cases. So, too, will most of the objects be displayed as they were originally intended to be used.

    "We want people to see the texture of the clothes," said Petrova, "and to see the quality of these things."

    The exhibition is part of a 10-year agreement between the museums to exhibit art and cultural objects from Russia, brokered by city officials and St. Petersburg College president Carl Kuttler, who is adding an educational component and hopes to use museum space for classrooms. Discussions are ongoing about moving the museum to adjacent space and making the property available for commercial development, but Johnston said plans for the museum to move are still tentative.

    Johnston said attendance could easily match that of Treasures of the Czars, which exceeded 600,000. He declined to estimate the cost of the exhibition, but he said it would be paid for by admissions, sponsorships and by offering it to other locales. The museum is negotiating with other venues to rent it, possibly Nashville and Atlantic City, said Kathy Oathout, Florida International Museum vice president.

    The State Russian Museum is a complex of four former palaces with display space for only about 2 percent of the 500,000 or so objects in its permanent collection. The museum frequently lends art from its vaults, but much of what is being sent to the Floridan International Museum has never been seen in the United States.

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