There were quite a lot of people about when the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Iron Felix, was torn down in 1991.
Dzerzhinsky was the man who set up the CHEKA, the forerunner of the KGB, and he was notorious. Consolidating the Revolution required the arrest and immediate execution without trial of hundreds of thousands of potential threats to the imminent Communist paradise, and Felix was tireless in pursuing this most necessary work.
Not surprising, then, that after he died, from a heart attack following close on the impassioned denunciation of some of his rivals, he got a giant statue. A giant statue slap bang in front of the KGB headquarters in Moscow.
Not surprising, too, that this statue was one of the focal points of the pent up rage of the suddenly released Soviet population after the fall of Communism. It was first covered in graffiti, and then removed and dumped elsewhere. There is a monument to those who died in the Gulags there now, although it’s not half as big.
There were a lot fewer people to see Felix Dzerzhinsky put back on his feet again a few years later, but my Papa was one of them. If you ever unearth a picture of the historic moment, you will see a short man with a dandelion clock of floaty hair, and that will be him. Mama says. I dunno. He doesn’t seem to have much hair now. I suppose anything was possible in the 90s.
This event did not take place on a traffic island in Lubyanka, but in what was then a rather scrubby open space off to one side of the Central House of Artists and the New Tretyakovskaya Gallery, opposite Gorky Park, next to the Moscow River.
A number of monuments to fallen heroes had been collected here, and were being put back on display. Stalin, his nose bashed off, was erected, rather pointedly, in the midst of tortured, anguished forms, an installation to memorialise the victims of repression and terror.
But as for the rest, Carl Marx, Leonid Brezhnev, a number of Lenins, a giant hammer and sickle, some generals, a female worker and so on, were just dotted about here and there.
And were soon joined by statues to perfectly innocuous people like circus bears…
…and a bare-bottomed youth standing on his shoulders.
There’s even an Oriental section.
And a whole square devoted to sculptures made from limestone.
It’s all a bit random to be honest.
Especially the great big fuck off Peter the Great statue down by the Moscow River.
But thus the sculpture park Muzeon came into existence and these days it is a rather trendy hangout.
You can wander around the statues, especially Felix, who is looking quite smart and has had his graffiti quite removed.
You can admire the red squirrels Mama suspects have been specially bred to entertain visitors at Muzeon and Gorky Park.
You can get coffee or some snacks from the plentiful little kiosks. You can even stroll down the river along the newly opened up embankment towards the Kremlin.
Nobody pays much attention to the statues to the dethroned Communist butchers. There’s no egg hurling, spitting, vigils, flags, respraying or chipping bits off now. Although you do sometimes find children wanting to climb on them (cough cough). And someone does seem to have left flowers at the feet of the defaced Stalin. Mama does very much hope this was in support of the 3 million people killed in the Gulags and the larger number killed by state-induced famine, but in 2017 it’s never wise to assume that sort of thing.
Of course, if you are foreign like Mama, you will almost certainly be taking photos. One person’s symbol of oppression overcome is another person’s edgy selfie opportunity, after all.
So what has caused this feeling of creeping irrelevance? Time has passed, and times are different since the heady early days of post-Communist living. The promised land of milk, honey and wall to wall freeeeedom and the Russian way has not quite worked out as expected.
Or it might have something to do with the fact that Moscow today is hardly free from Communist busts, flags, hammer and sickles, and statues. The impact of gathering the statues of the unwanted in one place so people can come and point and laugh is somewhat lost when there’s a huge Lenin at the end of the road, arm outflung as if to show the way to Muzeon (or the road to Communist enlightenment, you take your pick).
This might be why almost from the moment that Papa wandered over on his tea break to see what all the unusual commotion with cranes was about, there have been noises about putting Dzerzhinsky back on his roundabout again. Was there any point to taking him down, the thinking presumably goes? Or possibly, do we really want to encourage more such acts of childish petulance aimed at our (former) glorious leaders?
Hasn’t happened yet, mind you, but anything’s possible.
Mama thinks this would be a mistake though. Just as every memorial ever put up says a lot more about the people and times that spawned them than it ever does about the person (or abstract concept) being remembered, so does the act of removing them.
The fallen monument section of the sculpture park in Muzeon is a reminder that the values our predecessors held definitely need critically reexamining sometimes, but you can never, and probably should never, ignore them.
And it helps us remember that sometimes the best you can hope for is that there will be some relatively blameless child able to eat ice cream and enjoy the sunshine in pleasant surroundings in the future.
The park’s website (in Russian).
This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and Mama) has to say about First World War Memorials in the UK and their past and present significance.
Address: 10/4, Ulitsa Krymskiy Val at New Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 119049
Opening: 8am to 10pm (winter) or 11pm (summer).
Getting there: From Oktabrskaya metro station (orange and brown lines) – turn right, cross over the massive seven million lane highway and head left away from the giant Lenin statue down the other massive seven million lane highway. From Park Kultury (red line) – turn right, cross over the Moscow river, cross the seven million lane highway. Muzeon is opposite Gorky Park.
Alternatively, the trolleybus route ‘Б’ stops right outside. This is a circular route, which takes you round the edges of the centre of Moscow and hits a fair number of metro stations on the way. It’s quite a fun way of getting to or from Muzeon.
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36 thoughts on “Musing on Monuments at Muzeon Sculpture Park in Moscow”
It is fascinating to see how the statues show the changing values – who’s up, who’s down, and I rather like the idea of having a park to collect them all together in (because after all, what do you do with a whopping great statue when someone’s out of favour). Poor old bears though. It sounds a slightly surreal place, but one to make you think (and have ice cream). Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
Ah well, the bear is there on purpose rather than because he has become unpopular. It is pretty surreal though. There’s a socking great Pinocchio which I just couldn;t bring myself to photograph and everything.
Your pictures look great. I am a big fan of monuments, and Moscow is a city that I would LOVE to visit. Thank you for sharing this piece!
Moscow is a great place for a visit, and I am glad you enjoyed the photos!
That Peter the Great statue is hilarious. So subtle! It’s amazing how fast memories fade so I agree, keep the statues as a reminder of our past mistakes in parks like these so they can be considered in context. Also, Instagram locations are so important these days 😉 Thanks for joining #FarawayFiles
It is prime Instagram fodder for sure! Hmmmm. There’s a post in that for sure…
Memorials and monuments are interesting. You just never know the real reason behind the glorification to begin with, and those reasons only seem to get more muddied with time. I wonder about why they were regathered again in this place. And I really wonder about the person leaving flowers at Stalin’s statue! More questions than answers, but important to have the discussions!
The official reason is that this is now a 20th Century sculptural collection, and the statues are officially representative of art not authoritarianism. But ymmv…
It’s good that they have found a less honorable way to display the statues of some of histories greatest villains. It’s important that they remain so that their deeds can be remembered. But not in a way that lifts them up on a pedestal.
It would work better if they weren’t still on their pedestals elsewhere of course…
Very interesting thoughts and it’s fascinating that your father was there when it first came down. In the US this has been a big topic lately related to statues of Confederate generals. These days when I walk through collections of statues, I’m too busy chasing the kids to give a lot of thought to the historical and modern significance.
I have a funny story about my kids, a museum and a bust by Rodin on a flimsy plinth…
Never knew there is so much of them in Moscow. I have never been in Moscow for several years. We definitely need more travel articles from Russia, thanks for sharing this one!
I am doing my poor best to address the lack of Russia articles! Glad you approve!
What an interesting park this sounds. That Peter the Great statue is hilarious! Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles
That Peter statue also sprays out giant jets of water on high days and holidays…
This looks so cool! I’ve never been to Russia but this is so fun! I’m confused why there is a bare bottomed teen standing on his head! So odd and funny
It’s called ‘youth’. ‘Nuff said…
I love art collections like this. It’s such a cool way to be a part of the local community. I also really love the different textures of the statues! Particularly like the super shiny black one!
Shiny Lenin is indeed inappropriately attractive.
I like a good sculpture park and this one certainly sounds like it has its fair share of oddities. I do wonder about those flowers though….. #farawayfiles
Hard to let go of the ideals you grew up with is my most charitable take on Stalin’s flowers.
Wow, I’ve been to the Sculpture Park in Seattle and it’s really fascinating how different the styles are and how much they reflect the culture. Some of the statues are really…interesting haha and they make me wonder what the artists thought. But dude, this kick ass Peter the Great statue…it’s impressive!
It’s even bigger in person…
This looks like a great place to visit! I was actually talking to a friend about traveling to Moscow only a few days ago. Hopefully next years!
The football, right? It;s an excellent excuse!
interesting that there is an entire communist statue park but not shocking. In fact, I think as long as its not honored, its good to have reminders of our past so as to not forget our horrors and sins of the past.
That gigantic statue of Peter the great sailing is kind of cool too. So bizarre that its in the same section but very cool looking nonetheless
I don’t think the Peter statue is technically part of the park really. It’s just it’s so big, that being somewhat close makes it part of the experience.
This looks pretty amazing and herself describes it perfectly! She needs to watch her language though! Naughty girl 🙂 Peter the Great is my favourite!
Herself sometimes needs to express her British heritage… 😉
Very interesting essay on the sculpture park in Moscow. Im surprised they’ve kept the sculptures that are so offensive to the people!
Well, it’s complicated. Isn’t history always complicated, of course?