Moscow’s private galleries: From classic cars to modern art

Moscow is famous for its many museums, but it seems their number is still on the rise, courtesy of an unexpected source – the private museums of individual collectors.

Classic car collecting was never your average hobby in the USSR. In Soviet times, a personal car was a luxury rather than an everyday mode of transport. Preserving old vehicles was not the done thing, but Dmitry Lomakov, whose love of vintage vehicles runs in his blood, was an exception.

“My father happened to be part of a team which in 1959 restored a Rolls Royce that had belonged to Vladimir Lenin, and before him to the Russian royal family,” Dmitry Lomakov, director of the Lomakov Museum of Antique Cars, told RT. “That’s how his passion for old cars started and he began collecting them. And then I got the idea of turning it all into a museum.”

“Such cars as the ZIS 110 limousine were for the the party elite only,” Lomakov told RT. “This ZIS was made in 1949 on Stalin’s order as his gift to the Patriarch of Russia, Alexey I, for the church’s contribution to the war effort. It’s green because in orthodoxy this color symbolizes the victory of good over evil. And as Stalin originally studied to be a priest, he certainly knew it.”

Lomakov’s museum was Russia’s first private collection of retro cars. Over 40 years his family collected more than 250 vintage cars and motorcycles. It took Dmitry more than 10 years to set up the museum.

Located in Moscow’s south-east, it is now among the most visited museums in the capital. For the modest sum of 200 rubles ($7) motoring fans can see some truly unique gems – from German cars captured during World War II to Soviet classics.

Private museums are nothing new in Russia. Before the revolution they flourished, with Moscow’s most outstanding example perhaps being the Tretyakov Art Gallery, which grew from the private initiative of the merchant Pavel Tretyakov. In the USSR, the tradition was lost as the words “Soviet” and “private” did not marry well. Now though, things are changing.

There are no official statistics but some figures suggest Moscow alone has more than a hundred private museums. Some of them are a more exclusive affair than others, like the contemporary art gallery “Art4”. Opened in 2007, it houses a collection of works by Soviet and modern Russian artists. Getting to see it is a bit of a challenge as the entry fee is a whopping 6,000 rubles ($200) and even if you are ready to flash the cash, you cannot just turn up – advance booking is required.

“It started 17 years ago when I bought a painting to cover up a hole in the wall,” Igor Markin, founder of Art4.Ru Museum, told RT. “Then I got hooked. I decided to open a gallery because in a hundred years Russia hadn’t had a private museum of modern art. But to stay successful, you’ve got to keep surprising the public all the time. And I eventually tired of it, so I turned the museum into a sort of a closed club, and went back to collecting.”

No matter how open or exclusive they may be, both venues tell the stories of how one man’s passion can grow into something bigger, as the tradition of Russia’s private museums returns.

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