Escape from bustling 21st-century Moscow for a spell as you tour the Shchusev Museum of Architecture.
By Michele A. Berdy
If you have a free hour after shopping on the Arbat, take a break to revive your soul at the Shchusev Museum of Architecture, a seemingly unprepossessing building opposite Romanov Pereulok on the right side of Vozdvizhenka (as you walk towards the Kremlin). The museum was founded in 1934 as the first collection dedicated to architecture in Europe. The building itself, built in the late 18th century, is being slowly restored to its former glory; right now you can enjoy the spacious, echoing halls and strain your neck gazing at the extraordinary trompe l’oeil ceilings and crystal chandeliers. Be sure to go out into the back courtyard to the Chambers of the Tsar’s Apothecary, a small exhibition space with vaulted ceilings that was built in 1670 to dry herbs for the tsar’s private pharmacy. The courtyard itself is a treat: a mishmash of sculptures, posters and whatnot that might have been beamed to Moscow from New York’s arty Soho.
Like so many of Moscow’s museums, the architectural museum’s rare collection of etchings, photographs, furniture and documents is largely in storage as the directors battle for funds to repair the exhibition space. Unlike other museums, the elegant site has a number of “virtual exhibitions,” including a fascinating (if horrifying) sample of buildings planned but not built (monuments to the glory of the Soviet state that would have dwarfed the Kremlin) and another on the Moscow Hotel, from its inception to its recent destruction. Point your browser to www.muar.ru. Texts are in Russian and English.
Right now the museum has extended its exhibition of photographs by Mikhail Dashevsky called Time Submerged. These moving black-and-white photographs capture Moscow and parts of the former Soviet Union from 1962 to1992. Children playing in a slummy Moscow courtyard, a grim woman waiting for a tram, portraits of older people, glimpses of communal kitchens cluttered with dishes, two men sitting on a bench — the photos are both timeless and utterly time-bound, freezing for us moments in Russia’s past that have disappeared, but yet seem as familiar as something you saw out of the corner of your eye the other day. Dashevsky’s eye is not light (there isn’t a smile in sight), and you leave the exhibition with a sense of a country and its citizens weary to the bones. But it is a rare glimpse into Russia’s past.
Before you leave the museum, be sure to stop in the Russian Gallery on Vozdvizhenka, to the left of the entrance. This wonderful shop is full of unusual art, jewelry, trinkets and knick-knacks — an excellent place for holiday shopping.
WHERE: ul. Vozdvizhenka 5/25, Metros: Biblioteka im. Lenina, Arbatskaya
WHEN AND HOW MUCH: The museum is open weekdays except Monday from 11am to 6pm and on Saturdays and Sundays until 4pm. The entrance fee is 30 rubles for adults and 15 for children (regardless of citizenship). For more information, call 290 1431.
LANGUAGE FACTOR: Most of the materials are in Russian, although there are English translations of the exhibits.
KID FACTOR: Depends on the exhibition. Not much for younger children, but budding Jackson Pollacks will love the courtyard.