In a remote desert in north western Uzbekistan, a small, unpretentious museum houses one of the world’s most remarkable collections of 20th century Russian art. Worth many millions of dollars, the collection is a treasure trove of once banned Soviet art and testament to a small group of artists and art lovers, who risked torture, imprisonment and death to create and protect these unique avant-garde works. A new Emmy nominateddocumentary, The Desert of Forbidden Art, seeks to unravel this story.
Igor Savitsky (1915-84), a Russian born in Kiev, founded the Nukus Museum of Art or, in full, The State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan (an autonomous area within Uzbekistan), which opened in 1966. Savitsky began the collection with local Karakalpak artifacts and other Central Asian art. At the same time, the Russian avant-garde movement had begun, including Kliment Red’ko, Lyubov Popova, Mukhina, Ivan Koudriachov and Robert Falk. Though recognized in Western Europe, the Russian avant-garde movement and its work—a direct challenge to state endorsed “Socialist Realism” art—had been banned in the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s rule and through the 1960s.