My next work of museum study, a form of travelling in the mind, is a recent book about the Hermitage, called Art of Memories: Curating at the Hermitage, written by a French sociologist, Vincent Lépinay, who spent some time as Director of a new Center for Science and Technology Studies at the European University at St. Petersburg, and was instantly given the task of examining the nature of the Hermitage by its long-standing director, Mikhail Piotovsky, whose father, Boris, was director before him.
The Hermitage is huge and somehow unknowable: still as much Catherine the Great’s palace as a twenty-first century museum, with room after room after room of great treasures, right up into the attics where the Impressionists used to be displayed with windows wide open and the curtains flapping. Its first catalogue of paintings appeared in French in 1773. By the time of the publication of the first Russian catalogue in 1797, there were already 4,000 paintings. Now, it would take eight years to look at every object, allowing a minute each (most people apparently spend an average of only twenty eight seconds looking at works of art in museums).