Nukus – the capital of Karakalpakstan – is a young modern city founded in 1932. There are no historical or architectural monuments here, and its main attraction is the Karakalpak State Museum of Art named after Igor Savitskiy. Due to its unique collections of exhibits, this ‘museum in the desert’, as it is called by world well-known art experts, enjoys the public estimation far beyond the territory of Uzbekistan.
Igor Savitsky, the founder and museum’s first curator, was studying at Surikov Institute of Art in Moscow when World War II started and he was evacuated to Central Asia. Having familiarized himself with amazing history and ancient culture ofKarakalpakstan he took a great interest in ethnography and archeology, and Karakalpakstan became his second homeland.
At the same time Igor Savitsky devoted his life to collecting the art works and rescuing the works of Russian avant-garde artists who were victims of Stalin political repressions and were exiled to Aral steppes. Thanks to his enthusiasm and unselfishness there were rescued from being destroyed many pictures and drawings. He roamed the country looking for these artworks, whose owners, risking imprisonment or worse for being connected with forbidden artists branded as formalists, hid the invaluable canvases in the basements and attics.
The Museum was opened in 1966 and initially its collection was exhibited in seven small rooms. It was only 20 years later that a special building was constructed to accommodate the Museum. Today the exposition of the Museum consists of three parts: department of ancient and medieval art, which represents ancient culture of Khorezm – a state once located on the territory of Karakalpakstan, the department of folk applied arts, and the department of fine arts.
The museum department of ancient and medieval art displays archeological findings which tell us about the history of ancient Khorezm – the homeland of ‘Avesta’ and the trade links of local people with antique world, unique terracotta statuettes of Zoroastrian Goddess of fertility Anakhit, ossuaries – the containers for holding the bones of the dead relatives (fire-worshippers’ tradition), various articles made of ceramic and bronze.
The foundation for the department of folk applied arts was the collection of items made by Karakalpak craftsmen. These items were collected during the expedition of Karakalpak branch of the Academy of sciences of Uzbekistan. Today the department of folk applied arts possesses a rich collection of national Karakalpak jewelry made of silver and cornelian, traditional hand-made carpets, embroidery and appliqué.
The department of fine arts represents paintings and drawings collected by Igor Savitsky, art works donated to the Museum by noted artists of the country, and the paintings by Karakalpak artists.
But what makes the museum known world-wide is the collection of Russian avant-garde art of the 1920s-1940s. According to its world significance it is second only to the collection of the Russian Museum in St-Petersburg. The Museum displays the paintings by A. Volkov, the author of “Pomegranate teahouse’, early, stylistically close to avant-garde, canvases by U. Tansykbayev, M. Kurzin and N. Karakhan, the paintings by famous artists-impressionists who lived in Uzbekistan P. Benkov and Z.Kovalevskaya, works by Russian avant-garde artists of the early 20th century A. Shevchenko, P. Kuznetsov, A. Kuprin, N. Ulyanov, V. Rozdestvensky, R. Falk, sculptural compositions by V. Mukhina and S. Lebedeva. These names are well-known in the West. Almost all of them studied art in studios of Paris and Munich, got their education in art schools of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and their names are included into the catalogues of art exhibitions that took place in Paris during the first quarter of the last century.
A big role in popularization of the museum collection is played by Friends of the Nukus Museum Foundation (FoNM), a non-governmental organization formed by local and international enthusiasts in 2001. Today many diplomats and representatives of international organizations working in Uzbekistan are the members of FoNM. The masterpieces of the Museum collections were exhibited in Switzerland, Germany, France, and Italy. Savitsky Art Museum is included in prestigious international catalogues. But to see the vast collection which numbers more than 84000 exhibits you should come to Nukus.