People line up in the cold, tickets in hand. The exhibition has been sold out for some time and everyone is eager to enter the gallery. The Valentin Serov exhibit at Tretyakov Gallery has become the most visited Russian art show in the past 50 years. The exhibition celebrates Serov’s 150th birthday, and opened last fall. Since then, it has been visited by more than 470,000 people.
The “Serov phenomenon,” a popular term for the recent high demand for art, is in full swing. In a technological age, when youth seem to have little interest in art, Russian art seems to have found a second renaissance.
The Serov exhibition, featuring his iconic portraits, started this upswing. Suddenly, after the winter holiday, huge queues appeared and people tired of waiting broke the front door to the gallery. The Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation requested that the Tretyakov Gallery and Ministry of Culture prolong the exhibition for “at least for a month.” They agreed to do it for a week, and during the last days of the exhibit the gallery’s working hours extended until the last visitors were done. Previously, the exhibition was open until 9 p.m. daily.
A large amount of the paintings in the exhibition are in the permanent collections of Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian Museum, so art lovers can see them after the exhibition is over, yet people waited in line for hours.
The influx of youth to the gallery is not random. For the first time, Tretyakov Gallery held remarkable marketing campaigns through social media. A month before the opening of the exhibition, the gallery posted a teaser video based on one of Serov’s most famous portraits, “Girl with peaches.” Many people actively discussed the video, which was viewed over 260,000 times.
The exhibition was also presented with a unique angle, the result of tremendous research done by the museum. Instead of simply displaying paintings, there is a story behind each portrait. It is also possible that youth are tired of conceptual and abstract art, so classic works are attracting attention.
In July, Tretyakov Gallery exhibited the works of Ivan Aivazovsky, who gained fame for creating his own genre of Russian art, using seascapes to captivate viewers. The number of visitors is set to exceed those of the Serov exhibit — 350,000 people have visited the gallery to see his works and tickets are sold out. Those who didn’t buy tickets beforehand can only see the works by waiting in endless queues.
The gallery continued interacting with youth online for Aivazovsky's exhibition. The gallery produced a video dedicated to his 200th birthday, which was also translated in English to reach a wider audience. The exhibition also includes video installations, and the interaction between technology and art attracts more people.
To keep the attention of a technology-infused society, many museums in Russia now open virtual branches. For example, the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg has around 180 branches, and people can see many paintings through their computers and then visit a real museum. Many people who visit online museum in small cities tend to come and see the original work.
Some also see a psychological reason for the increased demand for art. According to some psychologists, people are tired of feeling anxious and uncertain about the future and they seek peace in the museum.
“People understand that during the exhibition they will receive their happy hours — the experience, the admiration which are so lacking today,” Zelfira Tregulova, director of the Tretyakov Gallery, said. “Art is the best medicine.”
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV