Russia’s treasure chest: Moscow’s top 10 art and history museums

RIA Novosti/Vladimir Astapkovich
From Faberge eggs to the abstract paintings of Malevich, from the Kremlin to Gorky Park and from the Middle Ages to today – we found both a rich history and dynamic modernity reflected throughout Moscow’s varied museums.

Moscow is a city of 400 museums: in addition to the top ones such as the Kremlin and the world famous Tretyakov Gallery, there are also museums devoted to natural science, theater and even industry. Muscovites are simply spoiled for choice and tourists have much to dazzle them. With RBTH’s guide to the capital’s best museums learn how to wind your way through Moscow’s museums while making all the right choices.

1. Kremlin

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

The main architectural landmark and symbol of Moscow needs no further introduction. An enormous complex of museums and cathedrals hidden behind red ramparts from the 15th century, the Kremlin preserves the treasures of the Russian tsars. The main players here are the legendary Monomakh’s cap and the imperial crown, medals and coaches, armor and ceremonial uniforms and Faberge’s jeweled masterpieces.

Also located here is the office of the President of the Russian Federation (unfortunately visitors aren’t allowed here) and the Diamond Fund, which presents a collection of gold nuggets, diamonds and jewelry from different eras.

2. State Historical Museum

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

This museum complex located around Red Square includes a historical museum, St. Basil's Cathedral (the world-famous church that looks like a holiday cake), the Museum of the Patriotic War of 1812 and the chambers of the Romanov boyars on ul. Varvarka, the dynasty's family quarters. All of these museums are filled with artifacts from Russia's history, from archaeological findings to the personal belongings of the tsars.

3. Tretyakov gallery

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

The world's foremost collection of Russian art from ancient times to the present day is kept in two large structures. The building on Lavrushinsky pereulok hosts the collection of classic art works, from the famous icon "Trinity" by Andrei Rublev from the beginning of the 15th century to the works of proponents of mannerism, realists, and Russian "impressionists” who worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Such artists include Bryullov, Repin, Shishkin, Ivanov, Rerikh and Vrubel. The building on Krymsky Val presents avantgarde art featuring "Black Square" by Malevich, as well as works by Kandinsky, Goncharova, Filonov and others. This part of the collection also includes socialist realism and contemporary Russian art.

4. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

This museum's gallery of old masters cannot compete with the Hermitage, although it holds masterpieces by Bronzino, Titian, Botticelli, El Greco, Jan Gossaert and Pussin. The pride of the Pushkin Museum is its collection of impressionists and modernists with works representing the different artistic periods of Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso.

5. Moscow Museum of Modern Art

Photo credit: RIA Novosti/Valery Melnikov

The four exhibition spaces of the museum do not contain any permanent expositions, because just like in the modern world, everything here is constantly in flux. All four buildings are located within walking distance from one another and present the whole spectrum of styles and movements of international art from the 20th and 21st centuries. The museum regularly holds retrospective shows of classics by artists such as Joan Miro and Robert Rauschenberg as well as exhibitions of young artists from all over the world. MMOMA is a founder of the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art. Its fifth incarnation will take place in 2016.

6. The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Photo credit: TASS/Artem Geodakyan

The new version of this museum opened in summer 2015 in a reconstructed building that once housed a Soviet-era restaurant in Gorky Park. The reconstruction was led by celebrity architect Rem Koolhaas. The museum doesn't have a collection of its own, instead promoting its own projects and hosting traveling exhibitions such as the retrospective exhibition of Louise Bourgeois, which is currently on view until February 2016. The museum belongs to Dasha Zhukova, the wife of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, so there is a good chance that one day artwork from the private collection of this wealthy couple, which includes masterpieces by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, will be exhibited here.

7. Art Deco Museum

Photo credit: Kommersant/Denis Vishinskiy

Sculpture, furniture, and applied and decorative art from the Belle Epoque form the core of the collection of this private museum. The most important work here is the sculptures, with the collection considered one of the largest in the word. The highlights are the chiseled figures by Demetre Chiparus inspired by the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev, the monumental panel pictures by Pierre Bobot that were originally designed for the Roseland Ballroom in New York and the furniture of French ironworker Edgar Brandt.

8. Multimedia Art Museum

Photo credit: RIA Novosti/Maxim Blinov

This former museum of photography has been transformed by the efforts of its legendary director Olga Sviblova into something like an equivalent of a local Guggenheim exhibition hall. After the reconstruction of the old building, the inner space started to take on the look of the famous New York museum. The exhibition's reach has significantly been expanded as well with six floors that can host up to five exhibitions simultaneously, from photography and video and contemporary art.

9. Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center

Photo credit: TASS/Sergei Fadeichev

While there are few authentic artifacts here, it still is a true marvel of contemporary museum design. Reconstructed interactive interiors here include the inside of a typical Odessa cafe, a market place from the early 20th century, a Jewish village and a synagogue. The main exhibit by designer Ralph Appelbaum tells the story of Russia's Jewish community over the last several hundred years.

10. AZ Museum

Photo credit: Kommersant/Peter Kassin

This museum is devoted to artist Anatoly Zverev, a legend of Russian underground art from the 1960s and 1970s. Mexican muralist David Siqueiros held this Soviet expressionist and abstractionist in high esteem and Picasso referred to him as Russia's “best drawer.” The bulk of the collection is made up of the private collection of Zverev's works gathered by Natalia Opaleva, as well as hundreds of graphic sheets by the master, donated to the museum by the daughter of arts patron George Costakis.

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