Gift to City Left to Decay Behind Metro Station
Published: February 27, 2013 (Issue # 1748)
Miniature St. Petersburg pictured when it was still receiving care and attention from locals.
The Miniature St. Petersburg sculpture park, which contains small versions of some of the city’s architectural marvels, from Alexander’s Column and the Hermitage to St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church on the Spilled Blood, is looking for an owner and a bodyguard.
Owing to an absurdist-style bureaucratic lapse, the sculpture park that first opened to the public in July 2011 in Alexandrovsky Park near Gorkovskaya metro station belongs to everyone and nobody all at once. This means that no one has ever been assigned to look after it, clean it, protect or repair the miniatures, which were designed by local artist Alexander Taratynov and presented to the city of St. Petersburg by Alexei Miller, the head of Russia’s oil and gas giant Gazprom.
The plight of the sculptures, some of which have been damaged by vandals while others have suffered from exposure, has this month attracted the attention of Alexander Kobrinsky, a lawmaker from the St. Petersburg faction of the democratic Yabloko party. Kobrinsky has contacted City Hall with a request to find a custodian for the neglected group of sculptures.
Kobrinsky said he was amazed to discover that the sculpture park in fact belongs to no one. “I would assume that giving a present to the city should not be that easy: Before accepting anything and installing it the government has to first decide whether the city does actually need the gift,” Kobrinsky said. “And, if the answer is yes, then a responsible government would immediately assign a suitable organization to supervise the [maintenance of the] gift. In St. Petersburg, it happens the other way round — we first accept things, and then decide what to do with them.”
The sculptures were placed in Alexandrovsky Park following the instructions of then-governor Valentina Matviyenko.
City Hall has reacted promptly to the inquiry. “The park will get an owner by May 1,” said St. Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko.
In the near future the sculptures will undergo cultural and historical assessment and, if acknowledged as having merit, will become part of the State Museum of Urban Sculpture. If state experts decide otherwise, the architectural miniatures will be placed under the protection of the Petrogradsky district administration.
The idea for the miniature city originally came from Gazprom’s Miller, who is a native of St. Petersburg. The thought came to Miller when he visited Amsterdam and saw the sculpture “Night Watch” based on Rembrandt’s painting, made by Russian sculptor Alexander Taratynov. Gazprom then contacted the artist and commissioned the miniatures.
The project received a mixed reaction from local residents when it first opened to the public. The project’s critics ridiculed it as a “fine example of fast art,” a reference to fast food.
St. Petersburg has to regularly review — and refuse to accept — various offers of presents in the form of artworks of varying quality.
In 2005, the Moscow-based sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, who is frequently criticized for the elephantine scale of his works, offered the city a whole park full of his monumental creatures. City Hall at first reacted favorably to the prospect of dozens of life-size busts of Russian tsars and princes as well as fountains and sculptures, and the inevitable monument of Peter the Great with a golden angel behind his back, being placed in the city’s Primorsky Park. However, a number of art critics in Moscow and St. Petersburg shrugged their shoulders at the idea, and the idea never came to fruition.