Fist fight and dramatic performance, lubok prints and canvases, folk games and card ventures… A new exhibition at the State Historical Museum – “An hour for fun” – will lead you through the centuries and show how Russians had fun. The exhibition, which opened its doors in October, informs, entertains and reminds visitors of obvious things that are missed in the everyday life.
There were a lot of holidays in Russia when everybody made merry regardless of their class, social status or affluence (the merry, perhaps, was the same, but its expression differed for sure). There is a story telling that joyous public celebrations took place on the bank of the Moskva River in 1722. The Duke of Holstein having a boat ride nearby decided to take a close look at the holiday. But drunk people dancing and making loud noise seemed so disgusting to him that he rushed to leave the place.
This chamber exhibition presents nearly 400 items from 17th - 19th centuries that are divided into 5 multi-thematic sections: a “hallway” (wh ere you get the gist of the topic), a room dedicated to fine arts and performances, and sections showing clothes and coaches, food, pyrotechnics.
Among the objects on display are Catherine the Great’s masquerade sledge, a firework cannon, Grad Duchess Olga Nikolaevna’s hussar uniform, the mast of a river vessel, a 300-year-old wooden bicycle and finely crafted birdhouses. Music lovers will definitely appreciate a board with old musical instruments: a seven-string guitar, a balalaika and gusli.
It should be highlighted that elite leisure activities are generally shown through the physical items – toys, musical instruments, glass dish, fans. Poor people did not have spare money to spend them on entertainment so in most cases you notice only paintings depicting public merrymakings. What’s more, there are folk sayings written on the walls, lubok prints (those are small uncomplicated pictures by peasants) and the rules of public games (you may as well visit the web-site and watch short videos about them).
The ambiance there is pleasant. The smell of trees (the indexes are printed on the wooden desks), barely audible birdsong on the background and dim light make you feel cozy. Moreover, if you come to this place on the weekdays, there won’t be many visitors.
The exhibition is convenient. This particularly means that you can come as close to the objects as possible: there are no fences, only signs warning not to touch the artifacts. You also notice the museum’s attempt to make the exhibition interactive and modern: you can open some drawers, listen to the lectures and look through the wine list, sit on the couch and look up at the projection on the ceiling. You are not forbidden to take photos and, besides, Wi-Fi is free. Children will like an “island” between rooms representing a forest made up from ropes. Amid those artificial “trees”, they will find swings.
However, we should also mention some disadvantages. Glittering silver signs are printed on the light walls, which makes them difficult to read. Some indexes are located not in the most convenient place – too low or too far from objects.
Despite certain cons, the importance of this exhibition can’t be underestimated. For years, maybe even decades, these artifacts have been part of the collection of the State Historical Museum, not shown or appreciated for their individual significance. Now they are a part of the exhibition with quite a rare topic. Many museums – such as Armoury Chamber, just in few steps from the Historical Museum, or The cabin of Peter the Great in Petergof - give an idea of how tsars, emperors, dukes (in a word, toffs) spent their leisure time neglecting the leisure activities of folks. This does not mean elite celebrations are not brought into focus in the exhibition. On the contrary, “An hour for fun” let visitors understand the dichotomy between these two sides – rich upper class and poor lower social strata. That is why the exhibition was definitely worth organizing and is surely worth visiting.