The art of seeing. Boris Moginov, Doctor of Architecture - about tricks of the trade

March 20

On March 5, 1994, the art restorer’s profession was officially established in Russia. To celebrate such date, we had a talk with Boris Moginov, doctor of architecture, art restorer of the highest category. He has been in this industry for half a century already and restored dozens of monuments during this time - from temples and churches to of Moscow Art Nouveau masterpieces, and managed to teach many young restoration artists as well. Boris Grigorievich is currently working at Central Scientific and Restoration Design Workshops (TsNRPM), one of the oldest restoration organizations, and teaching at the Restoration Art Institute as well. We will tell you about the long creative career of a true professional, his main rules and his beloved teacher.

Boris Moginov. Photo by Yevgeny Samarin,

- Boris Grigorievich, the Ivan Mindovsky's mansion restoration on Povarskaya Street is one of your recent projects. In 2019, the project became a laureate of the Moscow Restoration competition. Can you tell us what works have been done here?

- This is an example of Moscow Art Nouveau, designed by Lev Kekushev at the beginning of the last century. We carried out a serious scientific restoration at this object, which took about two years. Works took place both in building interiors and on facades. We restored the main entrance on the northern facade, the balcony, the portico over the utility service entrance, and many other elements. All if this was done using stock photos.

We restored the painting and art muse sculptural composition on the main (southern) facade, which was considered lost for over 80 years. This is a lot of work: firstly, you need to do exactly as it was in the original, and before that, prove everything to the smallest detail: where exactly the element was, what proportions it had, what the dynamics of the sculpture were. The TsNRPM Scientific and Restoration Council does not miss anything without sufficient justification. I was lucky to find this sculpture photographs of in the archive, they have caused the further discussion.

- Were there any unexpected discoveries in the work?

- Of course, almost no project can do without it. For example, we discovered that one of facades should have had a balcony. At some point, building owners simply cut it off and plastered the wall. We made probes, found tails of balcony metal beams and recreated it. We also opened a laid-out aperture with a stained-glass window, a majolica panel and other elements.

- There are many symbolic elements in Art Nouveau. In this regard, what can be said about the Mindovsky’s House?

- A running golden wave, Lorelei heads (Lorelei is a river fairy, a heroine of folk legends in the German culture. - Comment by, light, paint color, plant forms - these are water element themes. In general, non-straight lines belong to Art Nouveau. They are combined with classic elements here - rosaces, stucco moldings.

- You have a tremendous work experience. Nonetheless, do you seek any help from your colleagues?

- We all work in the community and help each other. I get involved a wide variety of specialists: artists, ceramists, sculptors, various scientists, and sometimes, you will not believe, even forensic specialists. They have a very powerful technique that allows revealing what conventional methods cannot do.

For example, there is an onyx fireplace in the Mindovsky’s House on the second floor. There were holes in some places, so we thus concluded that there were some overlays. What kind of overlays, that’s a question. We made a survey with special forensic equipment, which showed that bronze linings were adjacent to onyx, and revealed contours of linings by the molecular penetration of materials (onyx and bronze).
In general, it is very important in restoration that it does not stand still, new opportunities appear, computer technologies in particular. For example, when we made the main iconostasis in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, I was very lucky with a computer software specialist. He "pulled out" such details for me using them that would be impossible to see simply in the photograph.

I would especially like to note the attention of Moscow authorities to the heritage preservation. After all, restoration volumes grow every year, thus enabling us to work and preserve our priceless monuments.

- How would you describe an ideal restoration?

- The more inconspicuous it is, the higher is the art restorer’s qualification. You know, when the commission comes to accept the object and asks the question: "Whet have you done here?" This means that even a professional can not grasp boundaries of what is old and what is new. This is the highest possible mark.

- What is the main thing in your profession?

- There is a Venice Charter of 1931, which says: restoration ends where the hypothesis begins. That is, you can restore only such elements, as you are 100 percent sure in: where they were, what materials they were made of. If you are not 100 percent sure, you must stop. You should not deal with new-build, recreating unreasonably is impossible. There are very rare exceptions to this rule. For example, how can you recreate neither a dome nor a cross on an iconic monument? There is no way to do it.
I have a principle I inherited from my teacher, Lev Arturovich David, the architect-restorer: come to the object and look at the monument element restorable until you see it. What does it mean? You need to understand how to restore a monument, to see what is hidden and badly damaged. This ability to see comes with experience, after years of work at sites and studying archives.

Another piece of advice from my teacher: take only complex objects. I have tried to follow this rule all my life.

- As I can see, your teacher had a great influence on you, tell us a little more about him.

- Lev Arturovich is not just my teacher, he is my second father. He has a very interesting biography: he was born in Marseille, was a French citizen, his father was killed in the First World War, and his mother, nee Churakova, returned to Russia with him. He grew up here and became a real professional. We have worked together for more than 20 years.

David not just restore monuments, he fought for them. When they began demolishing the church of Theodore the Studite with a wrecking ball, the cable snapped. He came to the church with a photographer, filmed the XVII century decor and took photos to the demolition commission. He was talking about the value of this landmark building, its rich history, about the fact that a hospital monastery was there - but no reaction followed. Then he said that Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov had been baptized in this church. After that, the commission decided to preserve this landmark building and search for its future user. We worked with him on this object.

- Tell us about your favorite projects.

- It is difficult to single out the favorites, they are all like children for every art restorer. I can name several sites to you, including those I received my doctorate in architecture from UNESCO for. These are the Church of Saint Antipas of Pergamum in Kolymazhny Dvor (1575), the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in Old Simonov (1509), the Church of Theodore the Studite (1626), the Church of Saint Nicholas in Old Vagankovo (1539), the Small Ascension Church (1589).

- You have almost always combined your practical activity with teaching. What can you say about the new generations of art restorers?

- Young people happen to be very talented and enthusiastic, but they lack practical experience. Many things come with the lapse of time only, neither textbooks nor even good teachers can replace it. You need many years of experience of the very seeing of the object we talked about, and, of course, experience with archives. All masters had different methods and style, can you imagine how long will it take to learn distinguishing them?


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