Regional Co-operation for Cultural Heritage Development
რეგიონალური თანამშრომლობა კულტურული მემკვიდრეობის განვითარებისათვის
Տարածաշրջանային համագործակցություն հանուն մշակութային ժառանգության զարգացման
Національна політика щодо культурної спадщини
Mədəni irsin inkişaf Etdimilməsi üçün regional əməkdaşlıq
Рэгіянальнае супрацоўніцтва ў мэтах развіцця культурнай спадчыны
E- Journal №1
Cultural Heritage Policy
Reality and the Standards of Excellence at the National Art Museum of Moldova

Valeria Suruceanu,

National Art Museum of Moldova,

National Committe ICOM Moldova 


The Republic of Moldova is an Eastern European country with a rich cultural heritage. The government of Moldova continues to develop a contemporary national strategy on cultural heritage preservation. The legislative basis for the protection of our country’s national heritage was established after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Two important laws were adopted by Parliament in the 1990s: in 1993, the Law on Protection of Monuments and in 1999, the Law on Culture. In 2002, the Moldova’s Parliament ratified the Convention on Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage ratified at the 16th General Assembly of UNESCO in Paris on November 16, 1972. In 2010, Parliament adopted the Law on Protection of Archaeological Heritage. At present, the Government is developing a law on movable heritage.

At the beginning of the new millennium in Moldova, some 15 thousand monuments of historical and archaeological immovable heritage were identified. 5,698 monuments were included in the Register of Historical Monuments and 7,368 were included in the Register of Archaeological Monuments protected by the state. Museum collections (5 national and 98 local museums) count about 675,000 artefacts, which constitute much of Moldova’s movable heritage.

The National Art Museum of Moldova preserves a valuable part of our national movable heritage. At present, the Museum reserves count more than 39 thousand pieces of art. The formation of the Museum collection began after World War II, with a foundational collection of Russian and Western European artworks transferred from central museums of Russia. The Museum collections even include objects of Japanese graphic art. During the following years, the collections were enriched by new art pieces due to regular state acquisitions, including works of modern Moldovan artists.

At present, the National Art Museum is located in three buildings, all of which are considered historically and architecturally important buildings for our capital city, Chisinau. These are the Vladimir Hertza House, the house of lawyer Moisei Kligman (both erected at the end of the 19th century – beginning of the 20th century), as well as the princess Dadiani building, the former high school for girls (1900-1901), designed by famous architect Alexander Bernardazzi. The latter constitutes the museum’s main branch, and houses its primary storage rooms. The total area of all three buildings is equal to 6,467 square meters. Today, all three buildings are in the process of reconstruction and restoration. The Vladimir Hertza House (700 square meters) has been under large-scale restoration since 1991 and the house of lawyer Moisei Kligman (450 square meters) has been under restoration since 2007. The central part of the Dadiani building has also been in the process of restoration since 2007. Restoration activities have significant effects on the conservation, exhibition, and other activities of the Museum. In response to the restoration projects, the Museum administration had to reduce exhibition areas and transform them into temporary storage rooms for some parts of the Museum collection.

The National Art Museum did not initially have permanent, high-quality storage rooms for its reserved collections. The storage spaces available did not conform to international conservation standards for the storage of art pieces. For example, from 1970-1980, the Contemporary Décor Art collection was located in The Annunciation Church. This location was not fit for the conservation of works made of wool, ceramics, wood, fired clay, etc. The church was located far from exhibition halls, and the transportation of these works was not at all a safe procedure.

There was an even more acute crisis in the sphere of conservation during the 1990s. In 1991, Moldova gained independence after a difficult period of struggle. In the first decades of our Republic’s independence, the cultural sector faced overwhelming financial problems. At that time, state financing of art and culture was reduced substantially. The conservation of museum collections suffered accordingly. From the previous epoch, The National Art Museum inherited three buildings in severely deteriorated condition, with narrow and partially damaged storage rooms. The reduction of financing in the 1990s has also led to sharp decline in heating, ventilation, lighting, and alarm systems. Equipment used in numerous exhibition and storage rooms became unfit for use. Most Museum collections were in emergency storage rooms. For example, the sculpture collection was displayed in storage rooms with raised levels of humidity.  Access to art works was difficult due to lack of space. All these factors negatively influenced the conservation of objects.

In the 1990s, the notion of “preventive conservation” was developed in Europe. Two congresses were organized at UNESCO by ARAAFU in 1992, and in Ottava by IIC in 1994. Preventive measures of conservation in Moldova were limited to the transferral of art pieces from one storage room to another. In the majority of cases, artefacts were transferred to the premises of former exhibition areas, which were also in emergency conditions. Conservators and restorers directed their attention to addressing the consequences of negative preservation conditions. Difficulties arose each time collections were evacuated, requiring great efforts on the part of Museum staff, particularly as there was a constant lack of qualified personnel. Packing materials (including boxes) were not provided. As a result of many hurried moves, the exhibits were placed randomly on racks and shelves. Conservators were compelled to use outdated equipment for packing artefacts. The disaster management system fell far short of the collection’s needs.

Beginning in 2002, new prospects for Moldova’s cultural sector opened. On December 27, 2002 the Parliament ratified the Law on Museums Nr. 1596-XV that became fundamental for museum regulations in accordance with international standards. On September 11, 2003 the government ratified The Instruction on Reckoning and Conservation of Museum Collections. The state began to allocate more finances to the Museum; giving rise to greater possibilities in addressing the Museum’s acute needs. Since 2003, the state has partially financed the restoration and repair of National Art Museum buildings. The Museum administration was also reorganized during that period. Its main priority became the improvement of conservation conditions of Museum collections.

By that time, the situation for the sculpture and décor art collection was catastrophic. The Museum Director decided to channel all possible resources in order to solve problems linked with the conservation of these collections. After a long and severe crisis for the collections of the National Art Museum of Moldova, during 2004-2007 an attempt was made to change the existing situation and improve the conservation conditions. During these years, three storage rooms for the sculpture and décor art collections, with the total area of 180 square metres, were repaired and equipped. The progress of our work was stalled by the reduced finances. In response, all material and human resources were maximally mobilised in order to work more effectively and efficiently. The collaboration between the administration, conservators, restorers, and technical assistance pre-empted any unwanted problems during this difficult process.

One of the most important aspects of successful arrangement of the new storage rooms was the scientific analysis of the collection. The scientific analysis of collections is of great theoretical and practical importance. Knowledge gained from the analyses allowed for the development of more efficient principles in the sphere of conservation and documentation, as well as in exhibition activities. The main purpose of the scientific analysis was to reveal the most valuable works from the aesthetic point of view as well as to make a classification of the collection by categories, types, genres, materials, techniques etc. For example, many art decor pieces of the 1940-1950s are specimens of mass production. As such, they do not carry the same aesthetic and artistic value as unique works hand-produced by artists, and may be regarded as more historical than artistic. Many experimental decorative art objects were created without respect for technological rules, a fact that later affected their conservation. However, the aim of the conservators is to keep for future generations the most valuable things left by the previous epochs. The socialist epoch produced several talented artists whose best works serve as a basis for the Museum collections.

Since 2004, in conjunction with the storage room repairs, a plan for housing the artefacts in new storage rooms was elaborated, taking into account the general factors influencing their safety, as well as the specific character of the collection. While repairing and arranging the new storage rooms in accordance with the requirements of European and national legislation, the conservators tried to take into account all general factors that influence the conservation of the exhibits. The most important are: utilization of construction materials during the repair of the rooms, fire safety, alarm systems, ventilation, temperature and humidity control, dimensions of the rooms, and free access to the shelves. Structural stability for the seismic conditions of Moldova was also taken into consideration.

An action plan with new working methods was elaborated. It recommended creating an efficient and user-friendly storage space that was both safe for the artefacts and easily accessible to museum staff. This method was conventionally called “conservation logistics.” For example, while designing the shelves for the sculpture material (bronze, copper, aluminium, wood, marble, stone, etc.), type (round sculpture or relief), genre (large-scale portrait, chamber portrait, statue, compositions with one or several figures, space composition etc.), size (small plastics, middle size works and large-scale works) and weight (200gr.-100 kg and more) were taken into consideration. 

The refitting of the new storage rooms was a new experience for Moldovan conservators as they tried to independently elaborate their own approaches and principles while managing the storage rooms. Ten years ago, Moldovan conservators had few possibilities to get acquainted with the latest scientific and practical methods in the sphere of conservation. Electronic sources of information gradually became available, followed by the possibility to exchange expertise with colleagues from abroad, allowing for the incorporation of international standards.

Unfortunately, the conservators’ abilities were still constrained by limited finances. However, all the minimal standards were met for the design and repair of the storage rooms and the transferral of the art pieces. The conservation conditions of our collection are far from being perfect. A big leap was made towards the preservation of physical integrity of Moldavian sculpture and art décor works. It undoubtedly extended the life of many exhibits. The work done over several years was awarded with the Europa Nostra medal, part of the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra and European Commission/2008.

In the near future, we are planning to find additional finances in order to solve the remaining problems: professional equipment for the placement of the tapestry, glass objects and ceramics, modern systems for temperature and humidity control, and further exhibition equipment.

The work carried out for the rescue of sculpture and decorative art collection is only a part of what is necessary to undertake for the further prevention of risk to artefacts. Only four collections of our Museum are in the most advantageous conditions by international standards. Besides the contemporary sculpture and decorative art collections, two storage rooms for foreign graphic and decorative art collection were equipped. In 2007, the National Museum of Art received special equipment from the Japanese Government for the adequate storage of the Japanese gravure collection.  At present, it is the only modern professional equipment in our Museum. This kind of equipment is necessary for all Museum collections, as most of them are preserved in temporary storage rooms, such as the collections of National Graphics, National Painting, Foreign Painting, and Moldovan Religious Art.

Throughout the last ten years, the staff of the Museum accomplished significant advances under the leadership of the Director General for the preservation and promotion of the National Art Museum of Moldova collections. But in spite of all the efforts of the Museum staff, the acutest problems still remain unsolved: the restoration of Museum buildings is yet incomplete, the Museum collections still cannot be displayed in adequately equipped storage rooms, and many unique artefacts cannot be exposed due to conservation concerns. Nevertheless, we are hoping for the soonest resolution of these problems.


Dadiani bilding (1900-1901), now in process of restoration. Photo by V. Suruceanu
Storage room for sculpture in process of arrangement in 2006. Photo by V. Suruceanu
New storage room for ceramic collection. Photo by V. Suruceanu
Cases for the Japanese gravure collection. Photo by V. Suruceanu
New storage room for the plaster sculpture. Photographer - Iurie Foca
Old storage room for ceramic collection. Photographer - Iurie Foca
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