Bringing the Wild West to Russia and Siberia to the United States

The Russian Museum and the U.S. Foundation for International Arts and Education have collaborated to display historical photographs at a pair of exhibitions - one in Russia and one in the United States. The Russian show focuses on the Wild West, while its American counterpart introduces viewers to Siberia.

The Russian exhibition features a series of pictures taken by American photographers in the Wild West. Source: Press Photo

The Russian Museum and the U.S. Foundation for International Arts and Education (FIAE) have collaborated to display photographs from the late 19th century through the present-day at a pair of exhibitions – one in Russia and one in the United States.

The Russian exhibition features a series of pictures taken by American photographers in the Wild West, while its American counterpart introduces viewers to Siberia through the eyes of Russian practitioners.

One can also get better acquainted with the history and material culture of the American Indians in the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences (also known as the Kunstkamera).

The photo exhibition "The Wild West in Photographs" (through June 2nd) from the "America in Focus" cycle is currently on display in the Stroganov Palace in St. Petersburg, and features photographs from the collections of the American photographers Edward Curtis and John Grabill, as well as from the collection of the publishers Lawrence and Houseworth, which are currently housed at the Library of Congress of the United States in Washington, D.C.

“This series of photographic exhibitions, which provides the Russian audience with different sides of American history, was conceived by the Russian Museum and the Foundation two years ago,” Svetlana Zinchenko, curator in the Russian Museum's modern photography department, told RBTH.

“Since the project was envisioned as a series of exhibitions, it was logical to start with the earliest photographs, which tell about one of the most interesting pages in American history,” she said.

The next exhibition in the series consists of photographs devoted to the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s in the U.S. The work of the famous photographer Dorothea Lange will be on display this fall.

Not just Indians

For the Russian visitor, the Wild West, the theme of the exhibition, is associated most of all with cowboys and Indians and the old Westerns that were so popular during Soviet times.

“As was probably the case with all boys, we — influenced by films — played Cowboys and Indians when we were kids, so it was especially interesting to see photos from that period. For me, the Wild West is, more than anything else, adventure,” said Gleb Tikhonov, one of the exhibition visitors.

According to the organizers, there is no need to limit one’s understanding of the Wild West to Indians alone. After all, it is also the gold rush, railroads, settlers; an entire layer of history. Eighty-eight photographs that were scanned in the U.S. and then printed in St. Petersburg are being shown as part of the exhibition. Next, the exhibition will travel to Kazan and other cities in Russia.

Culture beyond politics

On the other side of the Atlantic, the FIAE opened an exhibition called “Siberia: In the Eyes of Russian Photographers” in Washington last year. Currently, the exhibition is on display in Minneapolis, MN (through 18 May), and will be in Sonoma, CA, this summer (June 14 – August 17).

These photographs tell about the history of the settling of Siberia through photos of subjects as diverse as Russian and native peoples in Kamchatka in 1901, a Young Communist League club in 1957, and newlyweds in modern-day Novosibirsk.

As emphasized by the Foundation, every exhibition prepared together with their Russian colleagues strives to reflect key moments in American and Russian history and stimulate greater interest and mutual understanding between the two countries.

 “We consider cultural exchange, independent of the political situation, to be an important part of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia,” said Alec Guroff, president of the FIAE, told RBTH.

“The foundation has engaged in developing cultural projects for almost 20 years, but we have been involved in Russo-American exchanges for more than 40 years. Of course, recent events in the world only strengthen our belief that cultural exchanges continue to play an important role in Russo-American relations.”

“The subject of the Wild West plays a very important role,” says Guroff.  “It is not possible to understand Russia, not having read Pushkin and Lermontov, not having listened to Tchaikovsky, or not understanding the monumental nature of the victory in World War II.

“It is just as difficult to understand America, not having read Twain or Fitzgerald, not having listened to Gershwin and Johnny Cash, not comprehending the role that the West played in American history and the growth of its self-perception.”

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