Tbilisi and the National Museum of Georgia illustrate perfectly how a post-Soviet museum can be creatively converted into an innovative institution naturally woven into the social fabric of the city. For that reason, Georgia’s capital city and its national museumwere chosen to host the recent international conference on “Why Museums Now? Keeping the Past – Facing the Future.” Held from 19 to 22 September, the international event attracted some of the world’s leading museum directors, curators, managers, architects and theoreticians to Tbilisi. Presentations of successful projects such as Berlin’s Museum Island and modern development of the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City provided conference participants with world-renowned examples of the new function and form of museums in the Twenty-First Century.
Two of the most distinctive exhibitions opened within the scope of the conference at the National Museum were: “Museumsinsel Berlin – Museum District Tbilisi” and the exhibition of some of the best pieces from the oriental collections of the Georgian National Museum.
The Museumsinsel Berlin or Berlin’s Museum Island exhibition was jointly organized by the Goethe-Institut Georgia, the Berlin State Museum, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Georgian National Museum. Using the example of Museum Island, the exhibition provided insight into future prospects for Tbilisi’s museum district – Gudiashvili Street and Rustaveli Avenue – and development of the urban center of the city. The exhibition highlighted the design of a modern museum street by French architect Jean-Francois Milou, along with sketches of Gudiashvili Street as designed by Georgian architect Vladimir Kurtishvili in the 1970s.
The exhibition of the oriental artworks exemplified the sort of rich exposition for which the National Museum of Georgia hasestablished an enviable reputation. The exhibition also marked one of the final stages of the Twinning project undertaken by the Museum with financial support of the European Union. Commenced in 2010, the Twinning project has implemented important institutional changes at the National Museum.
One of the four components of the Twinning project involved the transfer of the oriental collections from their former location in Shalva Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Arts to a new secure location. Within a two-year period, museum employees managed to move all five thousand pieces of the oriental collections to repositories organized by art genre.
The most impressive pieces from those collections on display at the international exhibition included: a sword crafted by famous Iranian master Kalb-'Ali ibn Asadulla with Damascened blade and embellished with ivory and silver plates, presented to Georgian King Erekle II by Nader Shash of Iran; two rare china vases created for the Iranian royal household and donated by Shah Abbas I to an Iranian cult complex in Ardabil; unique Japanese bowls from the Romanoff summer residence in Likani; the mummy and decoratedsarcophagus of a priestess of the Egyptian goddess Mut; a unique cover of a handwritten book depicting the ascension of Muhammad; a decorative plate of Japan’s Edo Period featuring historical episodes of ongoing clashes between Samurai clans, and many other artworks.
Also on display were examples of high-quality Chinese porcelain, blue dishes of Egyptian earthenware, ancient Japanese silk, Coptic cloth, and unique Islamic metal artworks from the collection of famous Georgian photographer and philanthropist Aleksandre Roinishvili. Perhaps most impressive of all were some thirty easel paintings from the later Qajar epoch which have made the Georgian National Museum’s oriental collections famous in art circles.
This article has been updated since it first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue #114, published 17 September 2012.