Хранитель архитектурной совести Москвы
Никто из тех, кто посещал кабинет Давида Саркисяна, директора Государственного Музея архитектуры в Москве, не забыл этот опыт. Втиснутый позади стола, заваленного советскими сувенирами, пепельницами и проч., он постоянно выступал против изношенных установок современного города, приходя в восторг от какого-нибудь рисунка, обнаруженного в архивах музея...
No one who visited the office of David Sarkisyan, the outspoken director of the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture in Moscow, soon forgot the experience. Wedged behind an ornate desk cluttered with Soviet-era souvenirs, architectural tchotchkes and ashtrays, he was constantly fulminating against the decrepit state of that city's landmarks, enthusing about a drawing he had discovered buried somewhere in the museum's archives, making introductions among the architects, historians and socialites who constantly wandered in and out, or pleading over the phone with the few journalists and government officials he felt he could trust. All the while he would be driving his points home with a lighted cigarette; during one such visit several years ago his hands became so animated as he described the atrocious condition of a 1920s apartment block that his cigarette flew across the room. To those of us conditioned by an international museum culture dominated by polished directors and their powerful boards, he was an extraordinary if anachronistic example of what a single person at the helm of a crumbling institution with few financial resources could accomplish — even in a world that seemed bent on silencing him. Mr. Sarkisyan, who died on Jan. 7 at a Munich hospital at the age of 62, was the center of Moscow's architectural world. Moreover, in an era in which that capital's historic buildings are being demolished with alarming speed and brutality, he was one of very few people willing to stand up to the city's ruthless alliance of corrupt politicians and powerful developers. "He was not interested in having a comfortable life; he didn't follow any of the normal rules," Peter Noever, director of the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, said in a recent telephone interview. "He stood for resistance." Mr. Sarkisyan, who had no formal education in architecture, was an improbable champion of architectural causes. Born in Yerevan, Armenia, in 1947, he worked as a pharmacologist and then in film, both as a producer and director. (He worked on Rustam Khamdamov's art-house movie "Anna Karamazoff," becoming friends with the film's star, Jeanne Moreau.) When he took over the museum in early 2000, at the request of the Russian minister of construction, a close friend, it seemed like a lost cause. Like many cultural institutions in the chaos of the post-Soviet era, the museum had lost most of its state financing. Many of its 19th-century galleries were badly dilapidated; in places, water dripped from the ceiling into plastic buckets. To make ends meet, the former director had rented some of its offices out to law firms. Yet the museum was also a trove of architectural treasures, including renderings and models from czarist times and the archives of many of the titans of Soviet architecture, from Konstantin Melnikov to Alexei Shchusev, after whom the institution was named. Mr. Sarkisyan fell in love with it. He pushed out the law firms and installed himself in a dark second-floor office. A flamboyant, theatrical figure who liked his vodka, he held court there day and night; his staff regularly found him in the mornings, on a small daybed. He was the first to show the work of major contemporary architects like Coop Himmelblau and Rem Koolhaas in Moscow. And he mounted a number of impressive shows, including one this past fall on a collaboration between the artist Vera Muchina and the architect B. M. Jofan that produced the Soviet Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World's Fair, a benchmark of Socialist Realism. At the time of his death he was working on a show about Melnikov in collaboration with the Museum of Applied Arts. But most of all, he used his international connections to pressure government officials — in particular the powerful mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov — in a desperate effort to save the city he loved from the wrecking ball. In 2004 he wrote an open letter to both Mayor Luzhkov and then-president Vladimir V. Putin deploring the widespread demolition of historic buildings in Moscow. The letter caused an outcry in the worldwide architecture community, and eventually led hundreds of architects, curators and museum directors to petition the Russian government for the enforcement of preservation laws. (If nothing else, the mayor was forced into making a public reply.) Among the wide range of buildings Mr. Sarkisyan fought to save was the 1929 Melnikov House, which the architect designed for himself and which became one of the great examples of early Soviet architecture; the Moskva Hotel, a Stalin-era landmark designed by Shchusev; and the Voyentorg department store, an Art Deco building completed in 1913. His success was mixed. Melnikov's two granddaughters, one of whom is allied with a developer, are currently fighting each other for control of his house in the courts; though both say they want it to become a museum, its fate remains unclear. The Moskva Hotel and the Voyentorg store have been demolished, and, in a cynical mockery of historic preservation that has become the norm in today's Moscow, are being rebuilt as gaudy kitsch replicas. (The new Moskva, a Four Seasons Hotel, will open this year.) Even when he failed, however, Mr. Sarkisyan sought to make the public conscious of what was being lost, not only in his activism but in the way he ran the museum. The courtyard of his museum was decorated with sculptural reliefs from the facade of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which had been ordered demolished by Stalin in 1931. And Mr. Sarkisyan often showed visitors the tarnished light fixtures and doorknobs that he had salvaged from the wreckage of the Moskva Hotel. In the months before Mr. Sarkisyan's death, developers in Moscow seemed to be embarking on yet another cycle of destruction. One began gutting the interior of the Detsky Mir department store, a 1957 structure designed by Alexei Dushkin in a pared-down classical style, which stands across a square from the old secret-police headquarters. At around the same time the national government signed off on a plan by the mayor's wife, a billionaire developer, to demolish the vast exhibition hall that houses the Tretyakov gallery's 20th-century collections — a landmark of Brezhnev-era Modernism — and replace it with a luxury housing complex designed by Norman Foster. It's impossible to know if Mr. Sarkisyan could have done much to stop these grotesque architectural crimes. But he, more than anyone, made the world aware of what was at stake. On January 15 hundreds attended a wake held at the museum, where his body was displayed in an open coffin, as is Russian custom. "Every kind of person was there," Mr. Noever told me. "Cleaning women, artists, models with long legs, men in expensive suits who looked like oligarchs — maybe a thousand people. And he was laid out like Lenin."