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12 november 2018

elena_titova_xx.pngElena Titova is the Director of the All-Russian Decorative Art Museum. The museum, which she heads, was founded fairly recently (less than 40 years ago), but it is one of the most popular and stylish museums of Moscow, famous, among other things, for its collection of jewelry: Rostov enamel, Baltic amber, silver and bronze articles and much more in the same strain.

In her interview with Rough&Polished, Elena Titova talks about the museum’s jewelry collection, the history of its emergence and plans for the future, also sharing her thoughts on the jewelry art, its features and trends.

How did the jewelry collection of your museum come to being?

The jewelry collection of the All-Russian Decorative Art Museum has a remarkable fate. It is directly connected with the fate of the country, because the idea to establish a museum arose in the last quarter of the 20th century. Before that, there were several separate collections of Russian traditional art, art crafts, Russian style, including the collections belonging to such remarkable devotees as the Abramtsevo Coterie or Tenishev Project, as well as art objects made of wood, ceramics, glass and fabric... But they all existed separately. And when these collections started to be brought together, art experts discovered that this process was turning into an interesting work. And in the process, there emerged some lacunes, one of which was the Russian modern jewelry art. And I must say that it was gaining momentum by that time - in the form of authors’ or designers’ (as we can say it now) art. Yes, there were wonderful gold art works, there were good stones, but there was practically no artistic approach as such. That is, everything was made like batch-work at that time – it was mass production of jewelry made of very high-quality gold or silver and high-quality stones. However, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, in fact, in the 1980s, the Russian Museum of Decorative Art began to form a collection of designer jewelry. These were art works made specially for contests held at all-USSR exhibitions. This field of jewelry making attracted a certain pool of artists, who were engaged in these activities only. Moreover, the notion of jewelry in that period meant not only adornments, but also art objects. That is, everything was in line with that plan, which modern jewelry art could follow to develop if there had been no such megalomania, production of everything in huge series, and so on.

But this does not negate the merits of the jewelry industry in the Soviet period, right?

That's quite right, because the fact that there was produced such a quantity of jewelry of such quality is also a very interesting phenomenon, by the way. A contemporary artist could, perhaps, embody this idea in the form of some kind of installation. And it would be easily qualified as a pieces of designer jewelry art.

How many items are there in the museum collection - approximately?

At present, the collection has its own value and is so to say “closed” in time covering the period between the 1970s and the 1990s. It contains about one hundred and fifty most different unique items. In some cases, these are not precious metals or stones. These are articles of small plastic arts, prototypes, designer techniques. And by function, these are objects of jewelry art, mainly from metal, ceramics, and silk (silk threads). This also comprises fine work with optical glass, which, incidentally, has the same refraction of light as diamond. And the artists in this area can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Today it is the older, outgoing generation, and at that time they were amazing talents, innovators pursuing the eternal search for the new while working with these materials...

The galaxy of artists in the Soviet period was amazing, wasn’t it?

Yes, it was amazing. Well, I can say that the collection of jewelry art formed in the museum is unique in its capacity and the number of primary ideas contained in it. Already working in the museum, I was interested in what was happening, for example, in Germany’s jewelry art market - I knew quite well about what was going on in Britain’s jewelry market even before that. And I was surprised to find that very many ideas and trends in the modern jewelry were manifested in our jewelry collection of the 1970-80s. Probably, it is not only such a phenomenon with the jewelry collection – even in the absence of artistic contacts and connections between the Soviet Union and the Western world, artistic ideas nevertheless existed, originating simultaneously or penetrating by some mysterious ways – so to say, lingering in the air. And from this point of view and from the point of view of making mastery, it was interesting to know the way it all had been done. In our collection of Russian style - the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries - there are wonderful items, which overlap different types of art using precious metals and raw stones. Very often this can be said about the Tenishev experiments.

Are they in open access?

Yes, you can see them, but as you know the major part of our museum’s collection stays always in the vaults, waiting for its time. Nevertheless, we managed to update the collection of Russian style since last November...

The exhibition is outstanding, it is a high-level event.

I am very pleased with your assessment. As for modern things, modern experiences and trends, I am simply dreaming about bringing this topic to the museum making it a venue for jewelry art reviews, conferences and presentations. I think this is very beautiful and important.

excl_12112018_1_eng.pngThere were reports in the media about your plans to turn the museum into a design center, making it more actual... Do you follow the latest design achievements of leading jewelry brands, such as Tiffany, Chopard or De Grisogono...?

I cannot say that I systematically monitor them, but in any case, all that you are talking about – including both Tiffany and Chopard – means that we are struck with absolute surprise every year, amazing by its accuracy and novelty.

As the head of an art museum and as a woman, what do you think about the current state of jewelry craft and art - in their mass or elite versions? Can you point out some areas that you are personally interested in?

On a personal level, I single out Cartier for myself and really understand almost everything they do. That is, their trend is completely clear to me - why it is so, why twenty years ago Cartier’s watches were like this, produced in line with the period, and why they are different now. I am pleased to observe the development of the Cartier brand, I think that they are very quietly keeping up with the times, simply following some very subtle inclinations, moods and trends.

Do you visit domestic jewelry exhibitions - Russian Style or JUNWEX?

I was at a very interesting presentation recently - this was the Sasonko Ballet Collection. And, of course, I am always pleased with the thematic play, be it the Shemyakin images or theatrical, ballet versions. But this, I think, is a separate trend in the jewelry art pertaining to art works and history. In Cartier, for example, there are no stories to read - there is just the elegance of shapes and lines.

From time to time, the Kremlin Museums hold jewelry exhibitions of prominent brands - there were Tiffany and Cartier, including thematic collections of animals and insects - in general, it is classics... And have you spotted any new, completely avant-garde things in the jewelry field?

If we talk about what I see at exhibitions telling about development trends, in my opinion, there is some kind of return to the past things. And everything that used to cause sheer amazement – I mean things that were made, for example, for Asian consumers - today has become almost an aesthetic norm in jewelry reflecting pomp, variety in making and somewhat challenging beauty.

Do you mean Indian things?

Yes. Well, you mentioned the exhibitions in the Kremlin - there were treasures of the Maharajas and things of the leading European brands. That is, of course, not all that glitters is gold. There are phenomenal materials and imitations of materials that, nevertheless, follow the laws of jewelry art. And this taste of pomp, elegance, in my opinion, now prevails and attracts interest. Moreover, in this general mix of styles there can be a combination with any other style in clothes. And in my opinion, this is a sign of time.

Currently, there are quite heated discussions going on about the development of synthetics, that is synthetic or lab-grown diamonds. There are the Swarovski crystals, there are the cubic zirconias ... And there is much talk around that these bright new stones, created not by nature, but by high technologies and human mind, are to edge out natural diamonds. Previously, De Beers used to control prices in the diamond market for many years and advertised the final product, although it was not engaged in jewelry. What do you think of this new threat?

excl_12112018_2_eng.pngWell, since there are, nevertheless, identification methods and special equipment is being developed, I do not see a particular threat of replacing real stones with artificial ones. In my opinion, they should just go to two different markets. It is clear, that someone needs the authenticity of stones and someone needs their decorativeness. I traveled a lot and I believe that Cambodia and the South-East Asia are just those places where the presence of gems is logical, which is why a huge amount of artificial stones are coming to this market. They are pell-mell there, and there you can figure out what is what, but there are apparently groups of tourists or consumers who do not understand this. And sometimes it was very funny to hear them say that as recently as two months ago diamond mines had been discovered beyond a near mountain, and now here you are, you see these diamonds, literally fresh from the mines. And you know, people believe these tales.

What is more important to you, the authenticity of stones or their beauty and design?

To me, their authenticity is important. I belong to those to whom it matters, although I know people to whom it does not matter. It should be either artificial jewelry, also made by designers, wonderful, beautiful, but still better if it is real stones.

Do you think real stones have their own magic?

Yes, that's why I stand for them. For me, if real gems are replaced by artificial stones, it’s not the difference in value that sellers may cheat you out, but the very idea that you are to obtain along with a jewelry piece made from a genuine stone. Or just a gem, which, of course, has its own sacred meaning totally absent in artificial stones.

Is there a gem that you consider your own special stone?

Yes, my favorite stone is jade. This is a milky, green-blue exceptionally beautiful stone, which I love very much and wear almost all the time. And I feel its magic.

Nowadays, people often remember and talk about Faberge saying that it is necessary to restore the former glory of Russian jewelry art. Do you think it is possible to restore it - and how? Do Russian jewelry designers have a chance to reach the level of, say, Faberge?

You know, the school, of course, let's say, disappeared, as perhaps there has been a too long break in the teaching of this profession - skills, techniques and so on... But the modern time opens up other possibilities, other tools, some technological methods. And then, in my opinion, we have not fewer talented people, but only more ...

Where did the tradition vanish?

I believe the tradition has of course been severed. But in this case, I do not mean the artistic tradition, but the transfer of craftsmanship and craft skills. That is why, if we talk about the general style and ideas, then this style is not the only one of Faberge. And the companies that worked in parallel with him displayed amazing things, but unfortunately turned out to be too sensitive to all sorts of social troubles and our historical turmoil. At first, this fine art and jewelry craftsmanship simply physically suffered, then a little bit morally, because they became a sign of bourgeois way of life, and still later the remains of jewelry craftsmanship dissolved along with its owners and authors during the ups and downs and other military and dramatic events... Well, of course, the gap is wide enough. But once again, if we talk about a continuous tradition, it does not exist.

Well, there was social status leveling ... In order for this art to develop, we need at least a middle class, a consumer, if not a high society. Because, after all, this is an expensive fine art and these craftmanship skill heights require their consumers, who are few.

excl_12112018_3_eng.pngWell, the formation of middle-class is a special topic. In any case, for our family, for my husband [Boris Titov, a Russian politician and businessman, who is also the Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights. - Ed.]. Of course, having a middle class solves all sorts of problems, both for industry and for art. Since it is the middle class, when it is developing, that stimulates and acquires objects of art. And in fact, both talents and skilled craftsmen are born in its environment bringing up excellent artists-entrepreneurs. The example of Faberge is very good – an entrepreneur with a talent who not only found application but reached its peak. Therefore, yes – to make all this simply be and demanded by people not as super-elite things, but as craftsmanship and craft, we need, besides aesthetic education, to explain that this is art, that these are not just signs of bourgeois way of life and so on ... This is a long educational process, which includes the emergence of interested creative youth. But here, of course, there are its own traps, because there were always signs of bourgeois way of life in jewelry and there is also the eternal question of how to treat them.

In this country, the word "bourgeois" acquired such an accusatory connotation... However, the notion of middle class has an implication of respectability and stability, if not respect - in a good sense of these words. There is also a notion of upper middle class - these are people who have achieved a certain success in life, and all this - in other countries - connected with traditions.

This is true. Traditions are maintained in people’s homes and art works there are kept with reverence. The emergence of a public class, which is the creator and simultaneously connoisseur of beauty, is a matter of time, of course, but not only... I lived in London for several years, and what is called the upper middle class is the environment in which many people become close friends. There, as far as I have noticed, they do not have this theme of owning any super-items of jewelry art. There is a theme of hereditary family jewelry, however not stored in some bank, but namely, those that can be worn as totems or family relics. I also know that a generation absolutely belligerent to the bourgeois way of life emerged in France in the 1980s, when wearing a simple ring or earrings was considered a manifestation of backwardness and inveterate bourgeois attitude. At the same time, this did not prevent the development of high jewelry brands in the same France or Britain. That is, there is something else. Here, of course, it is the recognition that jewelry is a high art, that it should be approached with a yardstick used for great paintings or sculptures. But the peculiarity of this high art lies in the fact that replication is allowed – it is allowed a priori and even suggested. And this replication is not like what was produced by Soviet jewelry factories. This, again, is a product in the form of valuable limited editions. And the recognition that this is precisely such a product of art. That is, an artistic idea, artistic embodiment, author's editions or limited editions of jewelry art are perceived in complex as a product of jewelry art. Within the framework of festivals and exhibitions, this kind of art will always require its own space, its laws. That is, it seems to be very powerful in itself both ideologically and technologically... It possesses features that are very powerful. And this is not to mention the power of stones, which is certainly present.

But not everyone feels it. Since we have a diamond theme, do you have any special, personal attitude towards diamonds as stones?

I always admire diamonds. Beautiful diamonds give me a kind of "champagne" feeling inside. At the same time, I cannot say that I have a strong desire to possess them: it really gives me pleasure to look at beautiful stones at exhibitions - certainly, looking only at live stones (their pictures do not work in this regard). That is, it’s not about design or about how beautiful it is visually in a picture - it’s about the stones. But, for the sake of justice, I can say that some other stones also have a tremendous effect on me: sometimes I come across topazes (especially having a gold hue) and aquamarines that are so strange, bearing completely different shades.

I once spoke with opera singer Elena Obraztsova, and she told me how one of her rich female fans in New York dragged her to a jewelry auction and asked if she liked this and that, and then bought everything and gave her a jar of jewels. And the fan was terribly offended when Elena Obraztsova tried to refuse. She had to take that jar and then she used to give all this to the pupils and young singers participating in singing contests. It’s a beautiful story, isn’t it? And Algis Zhuraitis gave her a stunning Faberge brooch... Do you have any story related to jewelry?

You know, I spent my childhood with my parents in India - they worked there, - so for me the abundance of stones, both semi-precious and precious, is a memorable picture from childhood. My mother was always interested in jewelry - and before this opportunity emerged, she herself made jewelry, always loved large things, big stones. She still, may God bless her, wears some things with success, generously passing something to me and to her granddaughter. And the older these jewelry pieces are, the more significant they become. And they are all interesting in their diversity and connection with Eastern history, Indian bazaars... This does not prevent me from admiring the clean lines of Chopard or Cartier, but my childhood impressions, of course, leave an imprint. In general, jewelry is after all something that really forms and frames the old age and ennobles any signs of time.

Galina Semyonova for Rough&Polished