Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Author: Francesca Bisi (page 1 of 2)

Museums in Wartime: The Place of Art and History in the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

We are rapidly approaching the one-year mark of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latest and most extreme in a series of Russo-Ukrainian conflicts. The past year has seen widespread destruction throughout the country, with over eight million refugees leaving their homes to flee the violence. [1] This invasion did not appear out of the blue—on the contrary, there is a long history of political and military conflict between the two nations. Among the most recent examples of this is the 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea, a widely condemned action that resulted in Russia’s expulsion from the G8. [2] As with many other military conflicts, one of the most fragile—and most symbolic—elements endangered by violence and looting is art. As material representations of history and identity, works of art ranging from religious objects, paintings, sculptures, and architecture can become rallying symbols for revolutions or desired prizes through which victors can proclaim their ownership of a certain culture.

This brings us to the crucial role that Russia and Ukraine’s shared history plays in the motivation and propaganda surrounding this conflict. Kyivan Rus, which at its peak spanned a considerable part of Eastern Europe, was the largest kingdom by territory between the 11th and 13th centuries. At its heart was the city of Kyiv, which is today the capital of Ukraine. From roughly 882 to 1240 CE, this kingdom produced a significant cultural output and gave rise to several figures still important in the region today. Among these is St. Olga, who functioned as regent of Kyivan Rus during the reign of her son and is now revered with the epithet “Equal to the Apostles.”

Monument to Olga in St. Michael’s Square in Kyiv, Ukraine. Source: Risu.

Kyivan Rus is, of course, not the only instance in which the territories of modern Ukraine and Russia were conjoined. Beginning in the 18th century, Ukraine was controlled by the Russian Empire and, by 1922, it become part of the USSR. The last century has seen Ukraine face challenges such as the Holodomor, a man-made famine that resulted in the deaths of millions of Ukrainians between 1932 and 1933, and the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which made a part of northern Ukraine uninhabitable. It was only on December 1st, 1991 that Ukraine declared independence from the USSR.

For Ukraine, Kyiv remains the center of the mighty kingdom that once dominated Eastern Europe. For Russia—or, rather, for several Russian leaders like Vladimir Putin—Kyivan Rus is proof that the Ukrainians are Russian, and thus must be brought back into the fold of Russian leadership. [3] It is partly with this logic that Putin’s government justified the invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing violence in the region.

At the heart of the use of this history is the presence of artworks originating from Kyivan Rus, whose cultural significance gives their holder a currency through which to claim the past. A recent report from The Art Newspaper investigates this topic, raising concerns about the looting of the Ukrainian cultural patrimony at the hands of invading Russian troops. [4] The report centers around Kherson, a city on the Black Sea that was invaded at the beginning of the war in 2022. When Ukrainian troops reentered the city in October 2022, the Kherson Regional Art Museum had survived, but its collections were missing. Andrei Malgin, director of the Crimean Simferopol art museum, has stated that he was “instructed to take the exhibits of the Kherson Art Museum for temporary storage and ensure their safety until they are returned to their rightful owner.” [5] The Art Newspaper highlights the close ties between Malgin and Putin, as well as Malgin’s vocal support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The “rightful owner” in the eyes of Russian-controlled Crimea may very well not be a Ukrainian museum, and, as of today, the works have yet to be returned.

The Kherson Art Museum in Ukraine, photographed here before the Russian invasion. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The fate of the Kherson Regional Art Museum is sadly similar to many other institutions and collections affected by the war. Around thirty museums throughout Ukraine have been the site of raids and looting under the supervision of Russian curators. [6] Russia has felt the effects of the feverish need for material propaganda from Ukraine as well. The art historian Zelfira Tregulova was fired from her position as director of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow after she had “come under intense criticism from Russia’s hawkish proponents of the war in Ukraine due to the Tretyakov’s alleged resistance to the patriotic fervor that has engulfed the country’s elite.” [7] She was replaced by the daughter of a senior member of Russia’s Federal Security Service.

On the event of the one-year mark of the invasion, the exhibition “Ukraine: Connected Histories & Vibrant Cultures” will be opening at Tisch Library. It is organized by Prof. Alice I. Sullivan (Department of the History of Art and Architecture) and Anna Kijas (Lilly Music Library), in collaboration with faculty, staff, as well as undergraduate and graduate students at Tufts University, including members of the Ukrainian community on campus. This exhibition features the history and cultural heritage of Kyivan Rus and its function in the conflicts between Russia and Ukraine in the 20th and 21st centuries. Further, it will outline current efforts to study and preserve this rich cultural history that has been threatened and manipulated during the Russo-Ukranian conflicts. The exhibition will open March 6th, with a reception at 5 PM, in the Tisch Main Library Lobby.

Learn more about the exhibition and reception!


[1] “Operation Data Portal: Ukraine Refugee Situation,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

[2] Acosta, Jim. “U.S., Other Powers Kick Russia out of G8,” CNN, March 24, 2014.

[3] Mick, Cristoph. “How Moscow Has Long Used the Historic Kyivan Rus State to Justify Expansionism,” The Conversation, March 8, 2022.

[4] Bailey, Martin. “Special Investigation: Serious Concerns Over Fate of Ukraine’s Museum Works Taken by Russians,” The Art Newspaper, February 1, 2023.

[5] Beardsworth, James. “Kherson Museum Art Collection Looted Ahead of Russian Retreat,” The Moscow Times, November 11, 2022.

[6] Geanous, Jacob. “Russian Art Curators Have Reportedly Helped Loot Dozens of Ukraine Museums,” New York Post, February 4, 2023.

[7] Ilyushina, Mary. “Russia Ousts Director of Elite Museum as Kremlin Demands Patriotic Art,” The Washington Post, February 9, 2023.

Article by Francesca Bisi

MA Candidate in Art History and Museum Studies, Tufts University

Weekly Job Roundup

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s roundup of exciting opportunities in museums! We do our best to collect the latest job openings, and please be sure to check last week’s roundup. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

New England Museum Association Jobs
HireCulture – Jobs in the Humanities in Massachusetts
HistPres – Unique Historic Preservation Jobs
Museum Employment Resource Center
Job HQ – American Association of Museums
American Association of State and Local History Career Center







Conservator of Sculptures and 3D Objects, Museo de Arte de Ponce (Ponce, Puerto Rico)
Paper Conservator, Museo de Arte de Ponce (Ponce, Puerto Rico)

What’s Coming Up in the Art World in 2023

Happy New Year from the Museum Studies Blog!

As we look forward to 2023, here are a few of the amazing upcoming exhibitions that you should mark on your calendar. What shows are you most looking forward to?

Ningiukulu Teevee (2007) Shaman Revealed. Purchased with the assistance of the Joan Chalmers Inuit Art Purchase Fund, 2008. © Ningiukulu Teevee, courtesy Dorset Fine Arts. 2008/17.

Ningiukulu Teevee: Chronicles for the Curious
Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, Canada)
Opens January 14th, 2023
Curated by Wanda Nanibush (AGO)

Vitality and Continuity: Art in the Experiences of Anishinaabe, Inuit, and Pueblo Women
Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, USA)
January 21st, 2023 to January 6th, 2024

Ming Smith (1992) Womb. Courtesy of the artist. © Ming Smith.

Egon Schiele from the Collection of the Leopold Museum–Young Genius in Vienna 1900
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan)
January 26th to April 9th, 2023

Projects: Ming Smith
Studio Museum in Harlem (New York City, USA)
Curated by Thelma Golden (Studio Museum in Harlem) and Oluremi C. Onabanjo (MoMA)
February 4th to May 29th, 2023

Wook-kyung Choi, (1960s) Untitled (detail). © Wook-kyung Choi Estate and courtesy to Arte Collectum

Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940-70
Whitechapel Gallery (London, UK)
February 9th to May 7th, 2023
Curated by Laura Smith (Whitechapel)

Sofonisba Anguissola: Portraitist of the Renaissance
Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
February 11th to June 11th, 2023

Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952-1982
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, USA)
Curated by Leslie Jones (LACMA)
February 12th to July 2nd, 2023

Wangechi Mutu (2022) In Two Canoe. Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery. © Wangechi Mutu

Painting Love in the Louvre Collections
National Art Center (Tokyo, Japan)
March 1st to June 12th, 2023

Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined
The New Museum (New York City, USA)
Curated by Margot Norton (The New Museum) Vivian Crockett
March 2nd to June 4th, 2023

Teresa del Pó (c. 1684) St. Sebastian. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Dietmar Katzeresa

Muse or Maestra? Women in the Italian Art World, 1400-1800
Kupferstichkabinett (Berlin, Germany)
May 8th to June 4th, 2023

The Ugly Duchess: Beauty and Satire in the Renaissance
The National Gallery (London, UK)
March 16th to June 11th, 2023

Katsushika Hokusai, South Wind, Clear Sky (Gaifū kaisei), also known as Red Fuji, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) © The Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence
The Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, USA)
March 26th to July 16th, 2023
Curated by: Sarah E. Thompson

Musée d’Orsay (Paris, France)
March 28th to July 23rd, 2023
Curated by Laurence des Cars (Louvre Museum), Isolde Pludermacher (Musée d’Orsay), and Stéphane Guégan (Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie)

Juan de Pareja (1661) The Calling of Saint Matthew, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Photographic Archive Museo Nacional del Prado

Juan de Pareja: Afro-Hispanic Painter
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City, USA)
April 3rd to July 16th, 2023
Curated by David Pullins (The Met) and Vanessa K. Valdés (CUNY)

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (2000) Untitled (Memory Map). © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City, USA)
April 19th to August 2023
Curated by Laura Phipps (Whitney) and Caitlin Chaisson

Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker
National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin, Ireland)
May 6th to August 27th 2023
Curated by Aoife Brady (National Gallery of Ireland)

Menstrual products from various decades. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum Europäischer Kulturen / Christian Krug

Van Gogh and the Avant-Garde: The Modern Landscape
The Art Institute (Chicago, USA)
Curated by Jacquelyn N. Coutré (The Art Institute) and Bregje Gerritse (Van Gogh Museum)
May 14th to September 4th, 2023

Flow: The Exhibition about Menstruation
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin, Germany)
June 10th, 2023 to June 10th, 2024

Artist Portrait with a Candle (A), from the series With Eyes Closed I See Happiness (2012) Marina Abramović. © Marina Abramović

Secessions: Klimt, Stuck, Liebermann
Alte Nationalgalerie (Berlin, Germany)
June 23rd to October 22nd, 2023

Marina Abramović
Royal Academy of Arts (London, UK)
September 23rd to December 10th, 2023

Japanese American-owned grocery store, Oakland, California (March 1942) Dorothea Lange. © National Gallery of Art

Degas and the Laundress: Women, Work, and Impressionism in Late Nineteenth Century Paris
Cleveland Museum of Art
October 8th to January 14th, 2023

Dorothea Lange: Seeing People
National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C., USA)
November 5th, 2023 to March 31st, 2024

Article by Francesca Bisi

MA Candidate in Art History and Museum Studies, Tufts University

Monsters and Museums

Henry Fuseli. The Nightmare, 1781. Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 127 cm. Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts.

Horror fans are probably already aware that Guillermo del Toro has released a new series, an anthology of shorts available on Netflix titled Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. As the acclaimed horror director introduces each episode, he draws an object from the eponymous cabinet, representative of the story we are about to be told. Here the show is clearly forging a connection to the cabinets of curiosities, or wunderkammers, that were found in the homes of those wealthy and well-connected enough to assemble collections of strange, foreign, and valuable art and objects. Del Toro’s horror series ties in with a specific aspect of these collections, this being the idea of the monstrous. What better way to show your reach and wealth as a patron than to put on display creatures and objects which are typically outside of our control, or break with our understanding of the natural order?

We have long been fascinated with the inhabitants of the periphery of our understanding: creatures and ideas that lie between the fantastical and the real. Just plausible enough to be imagined, but not necessarily so common or true that they are a part of everyday life. This has been explored at length in art, and many examples reveal just how artists attempted to materialize the monstrous.

View of the stairwell. Bloober Team. Layers of Fear. Aspyr, 2016. Art by Mateusz Lenart.

The 2016 horror video game Layers of Fear, centered around a painter returning home to complete his final masterpiece, explores this topic. The player must explore the kaleidoscopic rooms and corridors of his house, completing puzzles in order to create an ever more disturbing painting. Art plays a central role in creating an atmosphere of psychological horror, with nearly every wall filled with real art supplementing the works created in-universe by the player-controlled artist. Among these, we can see classic examples of horror in art, such as Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, and several works from Francisco Goya’s black period. All of these works channel some of our deepest fears and discomforts. Artemisia Gentileschi’s famous painting is a dynamic composition leading the eye towards the sword slicing through Holofernes’s neck, while Fuseli’s embodies the form of a nightmare through an uncanny horse and goblin. Goya instead turns to images of witches and the demonic, as well as disturbing depictions of violence and death.

Among all of these, however, is an unusual painting. It is a half-length portrait, depicting a little girl holding a piece of paper. She is gazing calmly at the viewer, dressed in rich, sixteenth-century clothes. Her mouth is turned slightly upwards in a subtle smile, and her chubby hands and cheeks reveal her tender age. Why, then, is this young girl placed alongside so many disturbing images in a game where art is used to amplify the horror atmosphere of this haunted home?

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez, c. 1595. Oil on canvas, 57 x 46 cm. Blois, Musée du Château

Her name is Antonietta Gonzales, and, like her father and most of her siblings, she had a condition called hypertrichosis. This condition is ultimately the reason she is included in this collection. Hypertrichosis causes abnormal growth of hair, covering the individual’s body almost entirely. The paper she holds provides identifying information on her and her family:

“Don Pietro, a wild man discovered in the Canary Islands, was conveyed to his most serene highness Henry the king of France, and from there came to his excellency the Duke of Parma. From whom [came] I, Antonietta, and now I can be found nearby at the court of the Lady Isabella Pallavicina, the honorable marchesa of Soragna.”

An illustration from the late 16th century shows Antonietta’s parents, Pedro Gonzalez and Catherine. Born in Tenerife in the Canary Islands in 1537, Pedro was brought to France, where he was educated by the court in an experiment to make a cultured man out of what the naturalist Ulisse Aldovrandi called “the man of the woods.” Pedro and his children, four of which had the same condition as him, were treated as less than human, viewed in a similar manner as the objects and specimens that filled the wunderkammers and menageries that the royals and upper class of Europe retained.

Joris Hoefnagel. Pedro González (Petrus Gonsalvus) and His Wife, Catherine, c. 1475-80. Water and gouache on vellum, 14.3 x 18.4 cm. Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art.

Today, a similar attitude can be seen in the fictional gallery created in Layers of Fear. A smaller version of the portrait can be seen throughout the house, but it is placed front and center in the study. Upon entering, the player sees the portrait hung in a prominent, central position in the wall directly in front of them. Several factors impact the player’s reaction and understanding of this image. First, it is already known that we are playing a horror game, and thus any visuals are considered in such a light. We have already encountered several disturbing works before entering this room, and as such are even further prepared to perceive any further work of art in a similar way.

View of the study with the portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez. Bloober Team. Layers of Fear. Aspyr, 2016. Art by Mateusz Lenart.

Most players’ reactions reveal the impact this has. Nearly every single player acknowledges this painting with surprise or disgust, especially when it is highlighted in the study. Markiplier remarks “Oh god, oh god, oh it’s so… oh my god. That is so weird. Oh, what’s wrong with your face?” and Jacksepticeye exclaims “Like what the f*** is this? A beard baby!?” Several others compare Antonietta to a human-animal hybrid, a way of thinking that is strikingly similar to the dehumanizing rhetoric peddled by Antonietta’s contemporaries. During a GTLive stream of Layers of Fear, Matt says “Ugh… I am not a fan of that painting. […] Hey owl man. It’s actually a wolf, right? […] Wolf baby! Beware the wolf baby.” Another live stream, this time from DashieGames, similarly adds “What the hell is that? […] That’s like wolf-man baby.” It’s remarkable to see how the worldviews that shaped Antonietta’s life in the 16th century are repeated in the 21st.

The depiction of the monstrous—be it through allegories of our deepest fears, violence, or, in Antonietta’s case, people who look different than the established norm—reveal a steady line between the earliest museums (in the form of cabinets of curiosities) and our imaginations today. This brings us to wonder about the role that museums (whether real or through imagined collections, like that of Layers of Fear) play in amplifying these fears and prejudices. Are we cementing the fears and prejudices that dehumanize those with physical or mental illnesses and deformities?


Aldovrandi, Ulisse. Monstrum historia. Bologna: Typic Nicolai Tebaldini, 1632; repr. Paris: Belles lettres, 2002.

Dashiegames. “I WAS TOO SCARED TO PLAY THIS ALONE! HELP ME!! [LAYERS OF FEAR] [#01].” YouTube video, 2:18:06, June 18th, 2021. (link)

GTLive. “The Portrait of TERROR | Layers of FEAR! (Part 1 of 2).” YouTube video, 1:45:01, November 11, 2016.  (link)

Jacksepticeye. “ALONE AND AFRAID | Layers of Fear – Part 1.” YouTube video, 30:02, October 28, 2016. (link)

Markiplier. “OODLES of SPOOPLES | Layers of Fear #1.” YouTube video, 21:25, October 31, 2015. (link)

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. The Marvelous Hairy Girls. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

Article by Francesca Bisi

MA Candidate in Art History and Museum Studies, Tufts University

Weekly Job Roundup

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s roundup of exciting opportunities in museums! We do our best to collect the latest job openings, and please be sure to check last week’s roundup. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

New England Museum Association Jobs
HireCulture – Jobs in the Humanities in Massachusetts
HistPres – Unique Historic Preservation Jobs
Museum Employment Resource Center
Job HQ – American Association of Museums
American Association of State and Local History Career Center







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