Joint appeal by Georgian National Committee of Blue Shield, ICOMOS Georgia and ICOM Georgia to the following international organizations: ICOMOS, ICOM, Blue Shield International, Europa Nostra, and World Monuments Fund:
We would like to draw your attention to the recent alarming developments around the Shalva Amiranashvili Fine Arts Museum of the Georgian National Museum.
The iconic building of Tbilisi is at risk of demolition.
A recent engineering study by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Youth has identified significant “deformations and failures of the load-bearing structures on the wing along Pushkin Street, making it impossible to maintain and strengthen this part of the building”.
- Rather than propose an adequate renovation plan, the Minister of Culture, Sports, and Youth, Ms. Thea Tsulukiani, has stated that: structural repairs “might not be commercially viable.”
The Ministry also quoted the study to say that only the central entrance of the building can be reinforced.
- This not only impacts the historic building but also the collection (up to 139,000 objects). While the Museum’s manager and staff had prepared temporary relocation plans for the collections with authorities throughout 2017-2020, all of them have now been demoted. The newly appointed manager is disregarding the previous plan, and the proposed plan – designed to speed up the process of relocation – is inadequate. If implemented, it poses a great risk to the safety and security of the collections.
These plans of the ministry have been largely criticized by professionals and public groups and covered extensively by the media. A joint statement published by ICOM Georgia, ICOMOS Georgia and Georgian National Committee of the Blue Shield stresses the importance of preserving the authenticity and integrity of the building, criticizes the rehousing plan and demands transparency in the decision-making process. A number of public groups also staged protest rallies in front of the museum.
Although the minister stated on August 6th that the building will retain its museum function, will be restored, and the collections will be relocated to the nearby spaces for temporary storage, our concerns remain valid.
Regretfully, the cultural heritage community has often experienced a lack of transparency regarding decisions, shortcomings in stakeholder involvement, and unrealized yet promised results. These actions are contrary to the interests of our heritage and its preservation. Thus, we request the authorities to uphold their commitments and fully involve the cultural heritage community.
Thus, we request the authorities to:
- Commit in writing that the museum building having the status of immovable cultural heritage monument of national importance, will retain its museum function, cultural significance and its authenticity and integrity will be conserved;
- Commission highly qualified and reputable local and international professionals to prepare a restoration plan for the building based on thorough studies and interdisciplinary research, and undertake emergency stabilization works in order to halt and monitor the deterioration process;
- Commission another detailed structural study by an engineering firm with experience in historic structures. A second or third opinion for such iconic buildings is required.
- Discuss and finalize the existing detailed temporary relocation plan of the collections among a wider group of museum professionals, and especially with those who authored the initial plan by the Georgian National Museum;
- Ensure a transparent and inclusive decision-making process on both of the above matters in order to keep the museum community and wider civil society informed;
and urge all the relevant local and international stakeholders to express their opinions and help preserve the building of the Fine Arts Museum in its integrity and ensure safe and secure rehousing and return of its valuable collections.
We will keep you informed and remain hopeful of your support, by being on alert concerning these issues and communicating with the Georgian authorities.
The building of the Museum of Fine Arts is one of the rare examples of late Classicism and is one of the outstanding buildings of the 19th century Tbilisi with its refined proportions and high quality of construction. Built at the intersection of several streets, the building is nearly 200 years old. Commissioned by Iakob Zubalashvili of a notable 19th century Tbilisi family of entrepreneurs and philanthropists, it was based on a project by a Swiss architect Giuseppe Bernardacci. Initially serving as a hotel, the venue was later used as a clerical seminary from 1840. Another hotel opened its doors in the building in 1921, before the Museum of Fine Arts – founded by Georgian painter and public figure Dimitri Shevardnadze – found its home within its walls in 1950.
The Georgian Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most important and biggest repositories of the country’s movable cultural heritage, with up to 139,000 objects Including unique works of Georgian medieval icons, wall painting, mosaics, textile, jewelry, the works of Niko Pirosmanashvili, as well as European and Oriental Art.
Preliminary Design Concept and the Renovation Plan of the Shalva Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts
Preliminary Design Concept for the Museum of Fine Arts was prepared by StudioMilou (France/Singapore) in 2019 and was presented to the museum staff, to a wider stakeholder audience at the Ministry of Culture and to the President of Georgia. In full accordance with all the stakeholders of the museum and its collections, the Georgian National Museum was ready to start the temporary relocation of the collections to the priorly designated premises, and start immediate preconstruction studies/works on the historical building in late 2019. However, the process was unexpectedly suspended.
The Renovation Plan of the Shalva Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts had been prepared by the Georgian National Museum since 2011, with the advises of the experts from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Berlin State Museums and in close collaboration with StudioMilou and presents a 4-year vision for the development of the museum. Within the preparatory phase of the Fine Arts Renovation project, between the years 2005-2020, the Georgian National Museum has been consistently working on the improvement of safety conditions both of the museum collections and its historical building. The elaborated complex, multidisciplinary plan is based on the required specific studies and the case-specific approach to the museum building and its collections. As a result of the implementation of the given project, the Fine Arts Museum will be transformed into an impressive 3-building museum complex that represents the main entrance into the Tbilisi Museum District.
The Museum District Concept
The building is part of the Museum District Concept which was initiated as early as the mid-19th century and was further developed in the 20th century. The area encompasses several buildings of the Georgian
National Museum and National Library along Gudiashvili Street. The vision of the modern Museum District Concept was first developed in the 1970s. Later, in 2006 StudioMilou and the Georgian National Museum continued and developed the idea, enhancing it further in 2019.