4D - The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - Fall 2004
Legacy of notorious
family fills museum
September 26, 2003
By Lynn Hasslebth
Behind the scenes
A look into the ubiquitous
On Sunday, the University of Michigan Museum of Art unveiled an exclusive
exhibition of European art collected by Russia's most notorious royal family. The
exhibit, emphasizing the diverse artistic tastes and political goals of the
Romanov family, stands as the core of the University's six-month celebration of
St. Petersburg's bicentennial.
"The exhibit tells the story of the Romanovs' personal relationship to collect-
ing. It is a narrative of nationalism seen through a visually compelling experi-
ence" said museum art curator James Steward.
On loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, this diverse
exhibit displays 140 works including painting, sculpture and ceramics as well as
tapestry and furniture. French, English, Dutch and German works are displayed,
representing artists of both the Romantic and Enlightenment periods. The exhibit
tracks the family in chronological order from Peter the Great to the last surviving
Russian tsar, Nicholas II, representing over 300 years of art collecting.
Through their extensive pursuit of art, the Romanovs sought to elevate Russia
and create a commanding sense of national identity. Peter the Great established
this trend by founding St. Petersburg in 1703. As the nation's revived capital city,
St. Petersburg became a center of cultural and political prestige.
Catherine the Great secured the connection between art and politics. As a true
. Enlightenment monarch, her tastes gravitated toward neo-classicism, a style that
conjured up visions of ancient Greece and Rome. In the first gallery, paintings of
Greek goddesses and Roman architecture depict the height of Greek civilization.
Catherine's political goal was to create an image of rational democracy, while in
reality she led a highly centralized and dictatorial government.
While such paintings attempted to legitimize Catherine's somewhat autocratic
government, art was also used to assert Russia's military dominance. Catherine
Courtesy of the UM MA
I don't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out. All I got is Floyd.
persistently acquired the art collections of other Western powers as a means of
belittling her political opponents. France was the most consistently humiliated,
as Russia purchased many of Napoleon's collections after the French Revolution.
The exhibit displays a suite of four French paintings collected by Nicholas II
that depict the private life of Napoleon. While this represents Russia's military
pride, it also uncovers a certain obsession with France's leading monarch.
Nicholas's preference toward more personal and private scenes suggests his
overall discomfort with world politics.
The distinction between public endeavors and private life is evident through-
out the exhibit. Much like a private gallery, the collection displays selected
pieces rather than a massive presentation. This layout is reminiscent of the origi-
nal Hermitage, a suite of private rooms Catherine used to display her pieces to
prominent dignitaries. While the expanding Romanov collection was meant to
foster national pride and political competence, the Imperial Hermitage remained
closed to the public for most of the Romanov dynasty.
Steward describes this ultimate paradox: "The uneasy tension within the royal
family grew out of a desire to be of their time and acknowledge democratic val-
ues amidst a fundamental distrust of the people. Nonetheless, this exhibit seeks
to humanize a complex and tragic family history."
October 3, 2003
By Melissa Runstrom
Daily Staff Writer
There is a claustrophobic room, in a
little-known prop shop on Fletcher
Street, which houses thousands of shoes
worn by countless actors. A little further
down are ethereal costumes, freshly
dyed and drying. In another room, men
are busy sawing and painting New York
skyscapes. Workers are creatively mak-
ing these things look "real." Just as
actors immerse themselves into charac-
ters that become true, the props cease to
be props and become real items.
This prop shop is a small part of Univer-
sity Productions, a multifaceted organiza-
tion that was developed in 1985 after the
theater and dance departments became
part of the School of Music. Now it servic-
es the School of Music as well as produc-
tions that use the space they oversee.
University Productions handles the True-
blood Theater, the Lydia Mendelssohn The-
ater, the Power Center and Hill Auditorium
by maintaining all the buildings and verify-
ing that they are up to code -all this while
also preparing its own productions and
"There is a lot of value in people
teaching and not just being consumers,"
University Productions Director Jeffrey
Students can directly participate in over
45 events every year. Positions include
work study, ticket takers, student actors and
stage producers. The organization utilizes
qualified design students to work alongside
designers from University faculty. Kuras
stresses that everyone has an opportunity.
"There is a progression, and that is how we
do it. They can work up and they can
build," he said.
The group is already excited for this
season's schedule, including "Goodnight
Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)" and
"Guys and Dolls," both in October, and
three pieces in the University's St.
Even with a full season, University
Productions would love to expand the
number of productions and increase the
amount of roles offered. "There are
many many talented students. It is very
competitive for them to get roles on
stage," Kuras said.
The organization plays an important
role in Ann Arbor by adding to the cul-
ture of the city and campus with produc-
tions, venues and new talent. "The
difference between us and University
Music Society, for example, is that UMS
hires professional artists who are on
tour, and our job is to train students to
become professional artists," Kuras said.
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