In July 2023, Canada released a list of sanctions targeting cultural figures from Russia under Canada's Special Economic Measures Act. This list included Mikhail Piotrovsky, the current director of the Hermitage Museum, as reported by The Art Newspaper.
Canada's decision reflects its stance on Russian cultural figures being used to support Kremlin propaganda regarding military aggression against Ukraine. In Canada's official government publication, the Canada Gazette, it is stated, that «Russia is systematically destroying Ukrainian culture as part of its ongoing violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.»
Mikhail Piotrovsky assumed the role of museum director in 1990, succeeding his father, Boris Piotrovsky. He had close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin dating back to that time, which made him one of the most influential figures in Russian culture. Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Piotrovsky has supported the policies of the current president. In comments made to the Russian newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the Hermitage director referred to the war as a «special military operation» and emphasized the importance «to be with one's country when it makes a historic choice.»
The new law of Canada also imposes restrictions on Russia's Minister of Culture, Olga Lyubimova, who had previously faced similar sanctions from the United Kingdom.
Why It Matters
For over twenty years, Canada was home to the State Hermitage Museum Foundation of Canada, founded by Robert Kaszanits, a former deputy director of Canada's National Gallery. The foundation aimed to assist in preserving the collection of the St. Petersburg museum and making it accessible to the Canadian public. Collaboration between the two was close. For example, in 2002, Kaszanits and Piotrovsky jointly authored catalogues for the Art Gallery of Ontario's exhibition — «Voyage into Myth: Gaugin to Matisse, French Painting from the Hermitage Museum.»
Although business records indicate the Foundation dissolved in 2019, the Hermitage Museum continues to list the Canadian Friends of the Hermitage among its official international supporters. However, Russian officials now state that the «group has suspended its activities.» The Hermitage has not yet responded to Artnet News' request for comment.
In September 2023, the Hermitage Museum, cut off from Western cultural institutions since 2022, entered into an agreement with the Iranian Research Institute of Cultural Heritage and Tourism. This decision is part of the current President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, international policy.
On September 2, the Director of the Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, signed a «memorandum of understanding» with the director of the Islamic republic’s heritage institute, Mostafa Dehpahlavan. According to the official announcement, they will collaborate on on archaeological expeditions, cultural heritage restoration projects, academic publications and professional development opportunities for young scholars. The partners have also committed to organizing joint exhibitions— «Days of Iran» in St. Petersburg and «Days of the Hermitage» in Tehran.
Piotrovsky also held further talks with Jabriel Noukandeh, the head of the National Museum of Iran, with which the Hermitage had connections even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The Russian museum holds one of the largest collections of Iranian art.