The Catalog of The Oleg Kushnirskiy Icon Collection Showcased at VDNKh

The Catalog of The Oleg Kushnirskiy Icon Collection Showcased at VDNKh

The Russian Icon Collection project participated in Art Day, which was part of the “Russia” exhibition at VDNKh. A panel discussion titled “Russian Icon: The Foundation of National Identity in Visual Arts” was held in the Rosneft pavilion. During this event, the book “Russian Icons from the Mid-17th to the Early 20th Century. The Oleg Kushnirskiy Collection” was presented.

The discussion featured Nikolay Zadorozhny, Director of the Museum of Russian Icons; Sergei Bogatyrev, Deputy Director of the Museum of Russian Icons and the Andrei Rublev Central Museum of Ancient Russian Art; Ilya Kushnirskiy, Director and Producer of Russian Icon; and Sergei Khodorkovskiy, a collector and expert on Russian icons.

Nikolay Zadorozhny discussed the establishment of the private Museum of Russian Icons by collector and philanthropist Mikhail Abramov, who saw it as his mission to acquaint the public with exceptional examples of ancient Russian art.

“Mikhail Yuryevich, after familiarizing himself with remarkable collections, realized that they were not accessible to the general public, specialists, and scholars. Being a person of high moral principles and broad views, he concluded that having a personal collection would be too trivial for him. He did not see himself as a collector but rather as the founder of an influential educational center. His goal was to create a place where anyone could learn about Russian icons, their history, value, and enduring beauty. Thus, our museum was founded.”

Ilya Kushnirskiy noted that Oleg Kushnirskiy shared the same vision for collecting and popularizing Russian icons.

“My father has been a collector since his youth. He participated in expeditions, searched for historical artifacts, and dreamed of creating his own collection that would be recognized in the context of world art,” Ilya shared. “In the 90s, we moved to New York, where my father began collecting late Russian icons, hoping to publish a scholarly catalog and eventually see his collection in a museum.”

Ilya also expressed his gratitude towards Nikolay Zadorozhny, as it was thanks to him that the idea for the Russian Icon Collection project, aimed at promoting Russian religious art, was born. 

“Thanks to our collaboration with Nikolay Vasilievich, we were able to involve serious researchers in studying Oleg Kushnirskiy’s collection—Anna Ivannikova, an expert in Russian iconography from the 18th to 20th centuries and curator of the late iconography collection at the Hermitage, and Irina Shalina, an expert on cultural values at the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and a leading research fellow at the Russian Museum.”

The Catalog of The Oleg Kushnirskiy Icon Collection Showcased at VDNKh

The director of the Russian Icon Collection added that since the catalog’s publication in the spring of 2023, the book had been incorporated into the collections of over 70 Russian libraries, becoming a valuable resource for the study of late Russian icons. “Immersing myself in the world of Russian icons, I realized the importance of engaging the younger generation with this art, using modern technologies,” Ilya continued. “We hope to launch a digital project soon to make the collection accessible to audiences worldwide.”

Sergei Bogatyrev discussed the importance of technology in engaging audiences, sharing experiences from the Andrei Rublev Museum:

“We are finalizing the digital tour of the exhibition, which will feature around 20-25 monuments through videos and multimedia storytelling about the origin and history of icons. This content will be integrated into our social media page to attract a younger audience. Although not everyone will visit the museum in person, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and interacting on social media platforms will help instill an appreciation of the beauty and significance of ancient Russian art among viewers.”

Participants in the discussion also addressed issues of attribution and authenticity of icons. Sergei Khodorkovskiy talked about scientific methods of research: “Previously, attribution relied on the expert’s experience. In each century, specific styles and techniques were used. Nevertheless, each century also saw imitations of predecessors and even exact copying, which significantly complicates dating by the stylistic features alone. Scientific research methods that emerged in the 20th century, including the use of microscopes and X-rays, have enabled the identification of pigment compositions from each period. Therefore, today two artworks that look identical at first glance can be accurately dated to a specific century.”

This topic aligns with the story of how Oleg Kushnirskiy created his collection, involving top professionals in the field for the scientific study and restoration of artworks.

At the conclusion of the discussion, participants noted the significant international interest in Russian icons. Ilya Kushnirskiy mentioned that his father’s collection has piqued the interest of many who learn about it: “We have received numerous responses and proposals for exhibitions from countries including Argentina, Mexico, and Italy.”

Sergei Khodorkovskiy, for his part, noted that Russian icons are popular worldwide. “I know many collectors in Europe, as well as in America and Africa,” he added. “Interest in icons does not depend on the people’s religion because this art form touches the delicate strings of the soul, leaving no one indifferent who starts exploring it.”