Joint statement by ICOM Georgia, ICOMOS Georgia and Georgian National Committee of Blue Shield Regarding the building of the Shalva Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts and the collections preserved in it.
We would like to draw the attention of the general public to the order N00014916 of the Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs of Georgia dated on July 15, 2021, concerning the issues related to the building of the Shalva Amiranashvili Georgian Museum of Fine Art and its collections.
The Georgian Museum of Fine Arts is the most important repository of the country’s movable cultural heritage, housed in a building designed by the Swiss architect Giuseppe Bernardac in the 1830s (commissioner: the famous Georgian philanthropist I. Zubalashvili), and the museum collections (up to 139,000 exhibits, Including 152 works by N. Pirosmanashvili), include unique works of Georgian icon and wall painting, mosaic, fabric, jewelry, etc. as well as European and Oriental art.
It is well known to the general public that for years, both the museum building and the collections preserved in it have been endangered. This has repeatedly been the subject of discussion both at the local level and at international museum forums held at the Georgian National Museum. It is also known that the National Museum has prepared a museum rehabilitation plan based on the best practices of international institutions. This plan has been repeatedly discussed during working meetings. (see:https://bit.ly/3fakovJ).
The “Action Plan for the introduction of a special management at the Shalva Amiranashvili Georgian State Museum of Fine Arts, the transfer of museum staff to a safe place and the evacuation of collections” published by the Ministry is highly noteworthy (see the link: https://cutt.ly/2mZBpWC). It raises a number of questions in different directions:
• The mentioned plan covers the time period from August 5, 2021 to February 5, 2022 and focuses on the evacuation of museum collections, which, as current museum practice shows, is impossible and unrealistic in such a short period of time (6 months!). For example, when the National Museum organized temporary relocation of the Eastern collection (up to 5000 items) of the Museum of Fine Arts, that had been stored in improper conditions – to the Janashia Museum, (within the framework of the EU twinning project, with the participation of experts from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Berlin State Museums, 2009-2012), it took 2 years. For emergency evacuation of collections it is necessary: A) To develop a detailed plan spanning over an adequate time period that is required for evacuation by preventive conservation and collection management specialists, based on the analysis of the state of collections, that describes actions, includes analysis of the risks of each action and determines the necessary materials and human resources; B) When moving and placing collections in temporary storage spaces, all modern museum standards of preventive conservation and security should be considered. The process should be carried out with the involvement of specialists with relevant qualifications and experience.
• As for the museum building, it is the rarest example of late classicism and is one of the outstanding buildings of 19th century Tbilisi with its refined proportions and high quality. Built at the intersection of several streets, the building is nearly 200 years old. A typical technical report cannot be used to conclude whether the building could or could not be restored. Given the importance of the monument, its survival is acceptable only with the preservation of its authenticity and integrity. No part of the building should be demolished. Prior to rehabilitation, emergy stabilization of the evacuated building and monitoring are required to ensure that it’s condition does not deteriorate further. It is necessary to develop a restoration-adaptation plan for the building on the basis of interdisciplinary research in accordance with international conservation standards, for which everyone (government, professional institutions and civil society) is obliged to find and use appropriate resources.
• It is also worth considering that the museum of Fine Arts building is a major component of the concept of “Museum Street”, the idea created in the 1850s, after the founding of the Caucasus Museum. In 2007, with the cooperation of the architects of Studio Milu (France) and the National Museum of Georgia, the vision of the modern museum district was created, according to which reconstructions of the Georgian Museum, National Gallery and National Library I building were carried out.
• From a legal point of view, the law of Georgia on cultural heritage clearly determines when the status of the monument can be removed for the building. The law states that this can happen: in case of a destruction of the monument and a damage that takes away a monument’s historical value, which cannot be restored; Also when according to the scientific criteria, the monument has lost the main characteristics for which it has been awarded the status of the monument (Article 17). In the case of the building of the Museum of Fine Arts, we do not have any of the above named conditions for removing the status of the monument under the Georgian legislation. The law does not support the act of refusal of rehabilitation on the grounds of the monument being “unprofitable”.
Based on everything mentioned above, we definitely believe that the issues related to the building of the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts and the collections preserved in it should be discussed publicly, with the involvement of professionals and all stakeholders, which, unfortunately, has not happened yet.