“What a splendid snuff-box! Made of bright tortoise-shell. And see what was on the lid! Gates, turrets, a tiny house this, that and the other – dozens of them, all as minute as could be and all made of gold; the trees were gold, too, but their leaves were silver; behind the trees the sun was rising and its pink beams spread right across the sky.” That is how a boy was enchanted by a music box in a fairy-tale “The Little Town in the Snuff-Box” by Vladimir Odoevsky. However, as it turns out, those wonderful toys can fascinate not only a child but a serious businessman, founder of a big company, member of the board of directors of several corporations. Paradise Art talked to David Iakobashvili about his private museum “Collection” holding a range of mechanical musical instruments and a variety of arts and crafts from around the world. The museum will be ready to open its doors in July.

Paradise Art:

David Mikhailovich, have you decided to open a museum of mechanical musical instruments because in your youth you were engaged in sound recording and repairing radio receivers?

David Iakobashvili:

No, that is not the reason. A friend of mine, Bill Lindvall, had a small private museum in the center of Stockholm, given his advancing years he wanted to pass on his collection. His children were not interested, and he offered me to buy all objects. Those were the first 400 items of the fund. He introduced me to the collectors of musical mechanisms and then I found myself collecting too. I visited different auctions and museums, explored various collections and got carried away… Then I came across some bronze sculptures, and I began collecting bronze. Later the collection was filled up with Russian and European bronze, Russian arts and crafts, silver and crystal of the 18th – early 20th centuries. We have got bronze and silver items of Kurlyukov, Sazikov, and Faberge jewelry houses. We also have paintings and photographs.

And of course, I have expanded the collection of musical mechanisms. The museum comprises of 20,000 art pieces. Including five thousand musical machines: self-playing musical instruments, symphonions, automatons, organs, musical clocks, musical boxes, and mechanical mechanisms. The collection also features decorative and fine art objects. The oldest exhibit dates back to the 15th century; there are many artworks from the 19th – early 20th centuries.

Paradise Art:

Do they all work?

David Iakobashvili:

Certainly. All models are perfectly functioning. We acquire items in different conditions, but the museum has its own repair shop. Besides, we collect not only mechanisms but also music: all kinds of cylinders and rollers with music from the past. That time the sound was recorded to various types of media – plates, cylinders made of wax or even chocolate. We have them all.

In our museum, you can listen to the voices of people long gone. We keep unknown pieces of music by the famous composers. For instance, we all know the Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” but it is not the only one musical composition he wrote. The history pulls out the brightest, the rest is forgotten. Here we try to preserve the music form 150 years ago, make it possible to hear it and learn more about the exhibits. We plan to arrange classes of mechanics for the kids to show them how the clocks and other more complicated mechanisms were created.

Paradise Art:

What is the mission of your museum?

David Iakobashvili:

Why am I doing this? First of all, I like it myself, and I would like to do something nice for people. I have been building this museum for 18 years, invested a lot of money and nerves. It is a rather expensive enterprise. But I like to share my passion with people, show them those incredible artworks, and tell their stories.

Stockholm collection took 200 square meters. When I bought it, I thought I would make a small museum; and now we have 20,000 square meters building with 8,000 square meters of exhibition space. Some items are kept in the museum storage; the exposition will change to display all our treasures.

Paradise Art:

How much will the ticket cost?

David Iakobashvili:

The admission will be free, though, by appointment only, because the museum can’t fit more than 150 visitors a day. More people wouldn’t be able to see the collection properly and would bother each other.

Paradise Art:

The collectors complain there’s no infrastructure in Russia (auction houses, valuation system, etc.). Do you feel the same? What problems do you encounter?

David Iakobashvili:

There is no legislative framework for auctions. For 70 years there was a giant “wormhole” in the field of art market; it was impossible to buy art objects or antiques freely. There were only commission stores. People need to adjust. Private museums are highly popular these days.

It would be helpful to modify the law regarding importing and exporting works of art because of unnecessary bureaucracy. It also concerns tax policies affecting investing in cultural property. Furthermore, we should use the vast experience of other countries in this field.

Many cultural values have been exported from Russia. I have been collecting Russian bronze from all over the world, even from Australia. The collectors should be encouraged to import artworks.

If you build a museum, you need to make a special fund for the exhibit items and sell them only to the fund participants. Moreover, the items must be contributed to the governmental fund. That doesn’t make any sense but takes your money. Every time you import an item bought at the auction, there are problems. More difficulties await if you need to export the item back because, for example, it appeared to be fake. In order to export and return the item to the auction house, you must receive multiple permissions here in Russia. It takes a lot of time, nerves, and money.

Paradise Art:

Do you think, a respectable international auction house would sell fakes?

David Iakobashvili:

Of course, it would, and quite a lot. 40% of lots at the art auctions are fake. The auction provides an item with annotation, but they are not responsible for the authenticity. It is a job of a buyer. Being a long-time client helps, they usually cooperate, and I return artworks easily.

We can’t be present at all auctions. They send us annotations and photos. We have already had an item examined after the sale and figured out it was fake. There are many fakes among Russian silver and bronze. In the 1990s a rising interest in Russian art led to numerous forgeries. Later in the 2000s, on the wave of patriotism, the Russians began to buy them. That also heated up the market.

Paradise Art:

What about the current interest in Russian art in the world?

David Iakobashvili:

The interest in Russian art has been declining. Recently I’ve participated in the Christie’s sales where many Russian lots haven’t been sold. Of course, the deals are being made, but it’s nothing compared to before. The prices also went down. Well, it doesn’t concern self-playing musical mechanisms because of their foreign production. 80% of our exhibits are produced by the Western fabrics and artisans, mostly Swiss, Germans, and Dutch; there are also items from England and France.

Paradise Art:

Is it profitable to invest in art?

David Iakobashvili:

Let’s name it a “passive asset.” It doesn’t bring money. Speaking of a family heirloom, it would be sold at the uttermost end of need. The art is usually acquired for pleasure, not for future selling. All beautiful things I have bring me joy.

Paradise Art:

What item of your collection are you most proud of?

David Iakobashvili:

I cherish them all like my children. Some cost me millions, others bought for 50 euro on a flea market. Over half a billion dollars was invested in the collection. But all these things keep me warm and tell their own story, shaping the history of human thought, mechanics, and art.

Paradise Art:

What prospects do you see for the development of private museums in Russia?

David Iakobashvili:

I think, there is a huge potential. It is not unusual for wealthy people to open private museums. It is an excellent way to leave a legacy behind and make others happy. Anyway, that works for me. Just a few finishing touches and we are having a museum opening in a month. We are also going to open a smaller version of a similar museum in the “Sirius” mall in Sochi. The construction works will be completed by the end of the year. There is a youth center, I guess, they will be interested in listening, seeing, touching.

We make traveling exhibitions as well. On July 1 an exhibition of a sculptor Pavel Trubetskoy opens in Tretyakovskaya Gallery. It will feature 80 objects, including 46 from our collection. Our artworks are permanently displayed at the Decorative Art Museum. We are also preparing a show at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. It becomes the whole world when you do it, and you live for it. It is not for money, just for the soul.

Museum address: Moscow, Solyanka 16

Author: Gershon Kogan, 15.06.2018

Syuzanna Kamara

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