Under my byline

Wasting the family jewels

Posted in Architecture/Design, Art by Rrishi on 4 January 2009

Fabergé’s wonders don’t shine in this rare exhibition at the National Museum, Delhi

“ICCR didn’t have to spend anything, they brought it all from Russia,” said a curator at the National Museum, walking her friend through the ongoing exhibition entitled “Fabergé: Precious Jewellry of the Russian Empire” (note the spelling mistake). It’s the “culmination” of the Year of Russia, according to ICCR director-general Pavan K Varma — a year that seems to have passed largely unnoticed.

“Even the backdrops were brought by them,” the curator said, with a touch of pride, as I eavesdropped intently. She meant the material to line the showcases in the museum’s vaultlike jewellery room.

Well, there’s one good word for the backdrops and the entire show, whether it’s the ICCR or the Russians who set it up: drab. And there is no reason for an exhibition that includes some of the costliest and most iconic imperial fripperies in history to be so dull.

In the awkwardly cavernous anteroom, posters of the Fabergé eggs line the walls, and text panels offer a capsule history of Fabergé and its association with the Romanovs. The posters are brightly lit, but not the text. A few plastic chairs sit about, and the security guard is loud on his cellphone. Worse, there’s piped elevator music playing: it’s a santoor recital. How about some Russian choral music from Easter, precisely the occasion on which the imperial family gave precious eggs to each other and to palace officials?

The National Museum can't put up a respectable exhibitionThe vault itself — which has hosted other blockbuster shows, including the Nizam’s jewellery — isn’t a flexible space, but no attempt was made to enliven the row of small glass-fronted recesses.

Each recess contains a handful of sparkly items of varying silliness (such as a “bulldog head bombonijera”, whatever that is). The famous eggs get one window apiece. Little tags next to each display list the contents, but it’s up to you to guess which tag goes with which item, and also to wonder what “guilloché enamel” (to take one example) might be.

None of the objects is displayed to illustrate its use, or how it was worn. Some craftsmen are named, but there’s nothing about who they were or the tools or methods they used for all that fine detailing. There is almost no documentary accompaniment, the paper trail of letters and bills that expensive things generate and which is part of the essential human story of the objects.

It’s most disappointing.

Score: 2/10. Don’t bother going. Look Fabergé up on the Internet instead.

(Another Mystery Guest column. See previous one.)


2 Responses

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  1. someone fromrv said, on 10 March 2009 at 8:04 am

    can i call you a monkey or do you edit this

  2. Rrishi Raote said, on 10 March 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I don’t edit comments, but tell me: was that an aesthetic judgement or a personal one?

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