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Museum House of Mikhail Bulgakov (Kiev)

13 Andreyevsky Descent, Kiev (tel.: +38 044 416-31-88, +38 044 416-52-54), Metro stations: "Kontraktovaya Ploshchad", "Pochtovaya Ploshchad".


The Literary and Memorial Museum House of Mikhail Bulgakov (the Museum, for short), a department of the State Museum of the Kiev History, was founded in February of 1989.

The Museum occupies a house at 13 Andreyevsky Descent. The first floor of the house (7 rooms) is occupied by the main exhibition, The House of the Turbins, while the ground floor houses two exhibition rooms and the Literary Living Room. The cellar and veranda of the house are also used for exhibitions. In two little yards of the estate (the inner, closed lower yard and the upper yard), theatrical performances, evenings, festivals and meetings are held.

In 1991, on the occasion of Bulgakov's 100th birthday, the restoration works on the house were completed, to a design of I. Malakova and with the participation of D. Malakov and A. Konchakovsky.

In 1993, the main exhibition of the Museum, The House of the Turbins, was opened (the scientific and art idea by K. Pitoyev; the art design by A. Kryzhapolsky, a winner of the Shevchenko State Prize of Ukraine).

In 1996, a permanent exhibition called What is the Truth? (the scientific and art idea by Pitoyev, art by Badri Gubianuri) was opened, with the support of Ukraine's Fund for Promotion of Arts. The exhibition is based on a famous Kiev collection of Vasily Ekzemplyarovsky, The Holy Faces of Jesus Christ in Visual Art.

In 2001, an exhibition of Vasily Listovnichy, The History of the House and Its Master (the scientific and artistic idea by Pitoyev, art by Badri Gubianuri) was opened.

Kiev: The City of Mikhail Bulgakov, another exhibition of the Museum, was on display in Strasbourg in France, Warsaw in Poland, Munich and other cities in Germany.

Initially, the collection of the Museum contained around 250 items. Among those, only 47 items were related to the memory of Bulgakov. They had been collected by A. Konchakovsky, a Kiev engineer. Since the Museum was founded 10 years ago, the collection grew to 2,500 items, which included around 500 items related to the memory of Bulgakov.

The collection of the Museum has been amassed thanks to the active search work done by the research department of the Museum assisted by Bulgakov's nieces Yelena Zemskaya, Varvara Svetlayeva, Irina Karum and Irina Guseva; by the Museum's art patrons Doctor Sergey Bobrov and Valentina Dymenko; as well as by a great number of Bulgakov's admirers who donated something to the Museum. Their names are recorded in special files.

The Museum hosts evenings, readings, meetings of the Book Lovers Club, performances of Museum's theatre. Apart from traditional evenings dedicated to the Master's birthday (15th May) and name-day (21st November), the Museum holds a winter event series, 47 days with the Turbins, which includes a Christmas celebration for children, tours around the city, etc.

Besides the work related to exhibitions and collections, the Museum is actively involved in research and publishing work.

The Museum is an indispensable participant at international festivals and readings; it is an author or consultant for TV programmes as well as popular-science and feature films.

By a fortunate confluence of circumstances, the apartment where the Bulgakov family lived in 1906–1913 is situated in the first floor; for this reason, it is as if by climbing the memorial stairs we perform a ritual of ascension to the Master.

A small entrance hall leads us to an inconvenient labyrinth of rooms. A state living room is to the left. The function of this room was to make an impression about the status of the family and to introduce to the family's habits and way of life. In contrast to the dining room, this room was used to receive official guests only. The Museum is organised the same way: the living room not only introduces visitors to concrete materials, but also sets a tone and intonation of the conversation; tells about basic, fundamental, individual issues; and introduces to a figurative, museum language that is used for further narrative. The Museum, which is dedicated to such an extraordinary person as Bulgakov, sought to approach the writer as close as possible, while at the same time remaining in the framework of its trade. The idea of the Museum's exhibition was based on the requirement to dedicate the Museum to the Kiev Bulgakov. What was used in the first place was the fact that the writer himself (in The White Guard, his first Kiev novel) placed the Turbins, his characters, in the seven rooms of the house where he lived himself for 13 years. This way the Museum houses the Bulgakovs who lived here in reality and the fictional Turbins. In the Museum, everything that belonged to the Bulgakovs (related to their memory exclusively, not to typology!) is presented in its true, natural form. Objects that are described in the novel as belonging to the Turbins are unreal. This is why such objects are separated from those of the Bulgakovs. It became possible by using the white colour: it is as if the Turbins' things wear white clothes. These things are like large white areas or supports for the natural objects; they enlarge, emphasise, or present the natural objects.

The combinations of natural and literary objects in the same space create a special effect of space play, of strange reality or of signs of a different existence. This defines the writer's process of creative imagination and of a creative flash of genius, because these white areas contain people, situations, events that are real only for the writer himself and that are not seen by others.

The white colour may mean many things. It alludes to the snow that "covers" the entire novel (the story spans the period from 12th December 1918 to 3rd February 1919); to the wild blossoming in Kiev, the paradise city; to the doctor's gown that amazingly resembles the cloths of the heavenly host headed by St. Michael the Archangel, the heavenly protector of Kiev and Bulgakov himself. The white colour is the colour of the blank paper sheet, which attracts beginner writers; the colour of the made-up actor's face or of the mask of the white-face clown. The white colour also contains abstract concepts like memories, nostalgia, "fog" that gives birth to visions, reveries and fears. It also means death (the colour of the death mask). This colour as fully as possible reflects duality, which was the main principle of Bulgakov's work. It is not for nothing that this royal colour that contains the entire spectre is placed in the very title of the novel. This is the colour of Bulgakov's guard.

In the Museum, the white colour revealed one more property: it turned out to be a sign of anticipation and attraction of objects, legends, information and people. It is as if the white colour is willing to give its place to a natural object. This is exactly what happens when rare, preserved Bulgakovs' objects are found. They immediately replace Turbins' objects, creating an effect of a "breathing" exhibition.

The genre of the Museum is defined as "a portrait of an author and his characters in an interior of a house". Visitors (referred to as "guests" in the Museum) find themselves in the writer's "holy of holies", the moment when the Idea is born. This creative process of Bulgakov was inextricably connected with Kiev, his hometown. It was not only the town where he had been born and raised, studied, married and obtained his first profession, but also the town where he had submerged into the world of Christian values. Here he was comprehending the amazing topographic, historic and cultural singularities of this ancient city. It is difficult to overestimate the role of Kiev in the development of the writer's individuality, because his entire work confirmed this statement. The Museum has good grounds to tell its visitors about it, because many people associate the entire life of Bulgakov with Moscow.

By choosing a Kiev novel, The White Guard, for its first exhibition, the Museum sought to reflect the atmosphere and environment where Bulgakov had formed as a person, but not yet as a writer; that is, the exhibition develops a topic of the Eve. By emphasising the motif of the house as a safe haven in the turbulent sea of the Civil War, the Museum, on the one hand, demonstrates the normalcy of life constantly discussed by Bulgakov. On the other hand, the Museum introduces visitors to the House, the main exhibit of its collection. A piano with an opened music score, uniform light from a green-shaded lamp, books, photographs and a number of useless (from a point of view of a modern person) trifles with forgotten functions — all this creates cosiness, quietness and a certainty that the routine of life remains undisturbed, which means life according to simple and clear rules. The loss of this way of life, the death of loved ones and the destruction of family ties are central, painful ideas of The White Guard and other works by Bulgakov.

The interior of the Museum does not reconstruct, but rather creates a new art environment where memorial and literary objects are organised not according to laws of life, but to laws of theatre, which are close to the world-view of Bulgakov. The Museum believes that such exhibition that appeals to memory and to long-forgotten feelings and that is built on associative thinking reflects best the deep nature of Bulgakov. The Museum hopes that the exhibition will become a breeder of sensitivity. The exhibition involves visitors into a reflection on a wide range of issues: life, theatre, medicine, city, religion, art, culture, people and their destiny.

Having in mind that visitors expect to find a museum of the writer, the Museum introduces images from other works into the Kiev themes. For example, Professor Persikov's red ray (The Fatal Eggs) originates from a microscope in the medical office of Doctor Bulgakov (and his character Doctor Turbin); this symbolises the possibility to make visible something that was previously invisible. Right here, one may find a toolkit that was given as a present to Bulgakov by his uncle, Doctor Pokrovsky, on whom the character of Professor Preobrazhensky (Heart of a Dog) is based.

The room of Yelena (in 1918–1919, Bulgakov's sister Varya and her husband Leonid lived here) reflects two main Kiev layers, seemingly incompatible, that were amazingly combined in Bulgakov: theatre and religion; sacral and profane; the summit of the human spirit and the notions of personal guilt, of responsibility and of the price of the Truth turned to a game, a mockery and a mystification. For example, the novel first mentions an icon, which Yelena uses for her sacrificial prayer (fortunately, the Museum possesses the family icon desribed in the novel), but then immediately also frivolous shepherd girls on a pediment of a clock; and the room where the main miracle of the novel happens, the character resurrects, there hangs a carpet depicting Louis XIV surrounded by "coloured" women.

Expectations of a miracle penetrate all the works by Bulgakov, but it is in the House (called God-saved by one of the characters) that a miracle does happen. It is this miracle that has come true is pushing the space limits to a "fifth dimension", and in a mysterious way a wardrobe is turning into the front door of apartment 50 (The Master and Margarita). We open this door and find ourselves... in the same Kiev apartment... in the room where lived the author of all these space plays and various miracles, Bulgakov. In the novel, the author "assigned" it to Nikolka. It is here, in the light of a green lamp, that ideas of future works are taking shape, desk drawers are keeping unpreserved manuscripts and a cookie box is hanging in a mysterious crack between house No. 13 and house No. 11.

The acute angle formed by the two windows, on either side of the desk, is "hanging" in the unique Kiev air like a bow of a ship. The ship is ready for great voyages.

The Library tells about these journeys that remained in day-dreams and on paper. In reality, the Bulgakovs allocated this small, dark, walk-through room to younger boys. It is important to note that, in contrast to the small Turbin family who lived comfortably in the seven rooms, the Bulgakovs had seven children, and three cousins were brought up in the house as well.

In the novel, the Library is a treasure of the house, while the treasure of the Museum's collection are publications by Bulgakov that appeared during his lifetime. Modern publications, in all the languages of the world, are kept separately, in a library of the Museum.

Let us leave the great voyages aside. We are on our way to a small dining room. Famous cream-coloured curtains are filling it with warm light. The warmth is coming also from the second symbol of the House, a Dutch oven called Saardam. There are writings on it, like in a girl's diary; the writings are playful, sad and, in the final of the novel, tragic.

A chiming clock is still striking the Old Times, but everything is going to change very soon. Kiev will be seized by yet another authority: the Civil War is coming to an end (in the novel as well as in the exhibition).

What is expecting the characters of The White Guard? They can make only vague guesses. On the contrary, Bulgakov who wrote the novel in 1920s, while already in Moscow, by remembering Kiev, the House and his family, had already known everything by that time. This is why apocalyptic motifs penetrate the novel and create a depth no shallower than that of The Master and Margarita.

The exposition is based on the principle of the household interior. At first, it would seem that the exhibition does not have any other means than the narrative for revealing the philosophic depth of the novel that relies on high images of the Russian classical literature, with its high tension and the depth of suffering. It would also seem at first that the exhibition cannot show those borderline states (dreams, agonies and visions) that give birth to the providential essence of the novel. Moreover, how would you show the final with its "astral entrance"? In the final, the Museum introduces the themes of the City to the House for the first time, boldly destroys the real space, in order to demonstrate the "fifth dimension" on the cosmic level again. In the room where Aleksey was dying (which we can see from the Dining Room as if through the mirror), it is snowing hard. In the same room, stars are peeping out into the "God's curtain", raging flames of the unseen fire are licking at papers on a desk: however, the papers don't burn. The sky is huge, strong winds are carrying large snowflakes (it is the winds that are bringing a little demon wearing plaid pants into the room where Aleksey is lying half asleep) and flames are breaking into the quite, warm House. United with the winds of history that have already been depicted in the Russian classical literature, cosmic winds are carrying the house away. As well as the City and the characters, running everything together.

In the Museum, beneath our own eyes, the main miracle is happening: the House is resurrecting. The House is standing. The old floor boards are creaking, the clocks are communicating by chiming and the old lamps are mysteriously lighting the corners. The things that radiate the energy of their owners are being engaged in a silent conversation. And there is a never-ending stream of people visiting the House; they want to make sure that life is going on, to see, to feel and to remember.

Based on materials by Kira Pitoyeva.

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Museum House of Mikhail Bulgakov