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Another art museum chief quits as Russia pressures cultural institutions

Marina Loshak, who on Monday left her post as director of the renowned Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, holds a news conference at the museum's hall in central Moscow on Tuesday. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)
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The director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, one of Russia’s largest museums, resigned Monday and will be replaced by the head of an architecture museum who once worked for Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry.

The director, Marina Loshak, insisted Tuesday that her resignation after a decade in the post was voluntary. But her departure is the latest example of turnover in the leadership of Russian cultural institutions amid wartime demands from the government that art exhibitions reflect patriotic, national values.

Last month, the Russian government ousted the longtime director of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, one of the world’s most famous art museums, just days after Russia’s Culture Ministry demanded that she prove that the museum’s prestigious collection was “in line with spiritual and moral values.”

Loshak is one of the leading experts in the Russian avant-garde. The Pushkin museum holds 700,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings and other works, and has the largest collection of European art in the country.

In a farewell speech at the Pushkin Museum on Tuesday, Loshak said: “This is my decision. I have been preparing for it, understanding that everything has to happen in time. No one should impose anything on me.”

Loshak’s replacement will be Elizaveta Likhacheva, director of Russia’s Schusev Museum of Architecture. Russian media reported that she was a member of a pro-Kremlin youth project that organized demonstrations in support of President Vladimir Putin and against some cultural figures.

In 2002, activists from the project staged a demonstration in which they threw dozens of books by postmodernist Russian author Vladimir Sorokin into a large toilet bowl in downtown Moscow.

Rumors of Loshak’s impending resignation had circulated when the Tretyakov’s longtime director, Zelfira Tregulova, was ousted in February. Tregulova, who had served in her job since 2015, was replaced by Yelena Pronicheva, the daughter of a former senior official in the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service. Pronicheva had little experience in fine art, and her appointment appeared to be part of a new campaign to force artists and galleries to conform with the Kremlin’s increasingly conservative vision for the country.

Loshak said Tuesday that she had long planned to leave her post at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. Her contract ends early next month. But there were signs that politics were also a factor.

Russian art critic Maria Moskvicheva said that while Loshak’s resignation was probably a direct result of her contract coming to an end, the timing was also convenient.

“Marina is not a very convenient figure, of course, in the current situation,” Moskvicheva said in an interview. “But there is a technical point here. That is, her contract was ending, and she signed the resignation of her own free will.”

But according to Moskvicheva, Loshak was also in a difficult situation, with her daughter and nephew in exile abroad, having been included on the Russian government’s list of foreign agents. “In these circumstances, there was pressure from members of the public who support the state’s new course,” Moskvicheva said. “In general, it is unlikely that the Ministry of Culture could afford to keep her in the leadership of one of the largest galleries in the country.”

In March 2022, Loshak’s deputy, Vladimir Opredelenov, resigned in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“My attitude to current world events does not coincide with that of my colleagues from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation,” Opredelenov wrote in a post on Instagram at the time. “I hope this will change in the near future, but with things as they are, I am forced to leave my beloved museum.”

According to the Tass news agency, Loshak was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and graduated from Odessa University. She had an extensive career in both state-run and private art museums and is regarded as a leading expert on Russian avant-garde art.

Anna Mongayt, Loshak’s daughter and a journalist, wrote on Telegram that Loshak had made the decision to leave Pushkin “quite a long time ago.”

“She had a tough, but great 10 years. And she is definitely not one of those bosses who hold on to their managerial job with their teeth until their last breath,” said Mongayt, a presenter for TV Rain, Russia’s only independent television channel, which has now been exiled. “Mom always managed phenomenally to do only what was interesting to her. I don’t remember a single exception. This project was finished for her. There will be others. And frankly, we are very happy for her.”

Mary Ilyushina and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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