As I get older and closer to retirement from my job of 34 years, I’ve begun making a bucket list, a list of places that I want to experience while I’m still in comparatively good health.
Coincidentally, a few weeks back, I was channel surfing and came across a documentary titled the The Desert of Forbidden Art. The film tells the bizarre story of Igor V. Savitsky (1915-84), an obsessive collector who rescued thousands of early 20th-century artworks from the oppression of Soviet authorities who were trying to force artists into producing socialist propoganda.
According to Marinika Babanazarova, current director of the Savitsky Nukus museum:
No one cared about most of the [avant-garde] paintings because they were either forbidden or repressed or they were just forgotten. Many paintings were lying in attics, in the basements, in the houses of poor widows who were dragging miserable lives. And Savitsky was the one who recognized that art, and he was collecting the works that he found in their houses for the Nukus Museum, paying some money to them, but usually taking these paintings with IOU letters, promising to pay out within 10 or 15 years.
Desert highlights Savitsky’s life’s work: a museum in the arid hinterlands of Uzbekistan (central Asia) that is home to the world’s second largest collection of Russian and central Asian avant-garde art. Until recently, the museum, located in the city of Nukus, was largely unknown. But with the recent documentary, hopefully it will start to get the recognition that it deserves. The French magazine Telerama called it, “Le Louvre des steppe” and UK’s Guardian newspaper heralded it as “one of most outstanding museums of the world.”
Nukus, the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, is located in the northwest corner of Uzbekistan (near the dying Aral Sea). This is not a location that it is easy to get to. But if you are ever in or near Nukus, please visit the museum, it will encourage the government of Uzbekistan to protect their great treasure. The Nukus Museum is definitely on my bucket list. And if you are an art lover, you should definitely make a pilgrimage to Nukus.