'Decadent' Russian Art, Still Under the Boot’s Shadow

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

MOSCOW — Later this week moviegoers in New York will learn the strange story of Igor V. Savitsky, an obsessive collector credited with saving tens of thousands of avant-garde artworks from Soviet authorities who forced artists toward Socialist Realism in the 1930s.

“The Desert of Forbidden Art,” an American-made documentary, will try to draw international attention to Mr. Savitsky’s life’s work: a museum in the parched hinterland of Uzbekistan that is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Russian avant-garde art. Until now the museum has been known chiefly to journalists and art lovers who returned from the remote city of Nukus with a dazed look and a remarkable tale, as if they had stumbled into Ali Baba’s cave.

It would not seem the time for an official crackdown.

But late last year Uzbek officials abruptly gave the Nukus Museum 48 hours to evacuate one of its two exhibition buildings, so staff members ended up stacking hundreds of fragile canvases and paper works on the floor of the other space. The building has since stood empty, its fate unknown, and more than 2,000 works are no longer on view at the museum, more formally known as the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art. The museum’s director, Marinika M. Babanazarova, who has fiercely guarded the collection for 27 years, was not permitted to travel to the United States for a trip that was to include a screening of the documentary at the National Gallery of Art in Washington....

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