Central Asia fans have waited several years for the release of a documentary about Igor Savitsky, whom the New York Times calls “an obsessive collector credited with saving tens of thousands of avant-garde artworks from Soviet authorities who forced artists toward Socialist Realism in the 1930s," by housing his collection out of Moscow’s sight in the Uzbek desert. His successors – he died in 1984 – have maintained his museum with some private support since independence in 1991.
The “Desert of Forbidden Art” is scheduled to open to general audiences in New York this week.
But art is a closely monitored affair in Uzbekistan. In a cruel irony, Uzbek authorities have followed in their paranoid predecessor’s path, apparently reacting against the film, The Times reports.
[L]ate last year Uzbek officials abruptly gave the Nukus Museum 48 hours to evacuate one of its two exhibition buildings, so staff members ended up stacking hundreds of fragile canvases and paper works on the floor of the other space. The building has since stood empty, its fate unknown, and more than 2,000 works are no longer on view at the museum, more formally known as the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art. The museum’s director, Marinika M. Babanazarova, who has fiercely guarded the collection for 27 years, was not permitted to travel to the United States for a trip that was to include a screening of the documentary at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
And over the last year Ms. Babanazarova’s staff members have undergone 15 government audits, in which they have repeatedly been asked to explain their travels overseas and the nature of their contacts with foreigners, she said.
“We have to prove that we are doing something good for the country, that we are not a gang of bandits,” said Ms. Babanazarova, 55, who has run the museum since Mr. Savitsky’s death in 1984. “It’s a great satisfaction that we are getting international recognition. On the other hand, it complicates our lives, to be honest.”
But on the eve of the film’s New York release on Friday at Cinema Village, in Greenwich Village, officials in Uzbekistan were questioning Ms. Babanazarova repeatedly — asking her “to prove that we are not doing anything bad,” as she put it.
These days, Tashkent's reaction is unsurprising. After all, this is a country that labeled rap music and heavy metal “satanic.”
Sorry, fans in the region, the documentary’s website, which features a trailer, does not list any screenings in Central Asia.