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    By Anatoly Korolev, RIA Novosti commentator

    The Hermitage, St. Petersburg's museum Colossus, is actively reaching out to global audiences.

    After the exhibit "Imperial Petersburg: Peter the Great through Catherine II" in Monte Carlo, the Hermitage Museum has now staged a show in Las Vegas. Appropriately entitled "In Pursuit of Pleasures," the Las Vegas display demonstrates through pictorial media that the mankind has been indulging in gambling and other worldly pleasures for hundreds of years now.

    The forty pictures brought to Las Vegas offer a panorama of pastimes in the past five hundred years of human history. They are painted by Titian, Diego Velasquez, Peter Paul Rubens, Jean-Honore Fragonard, Pablo Picasso, and Max Beckmann, among others. Casino regulars can take some time off from the 24-hour gambling excitement to witness the somewhat calmer pastimes of the past-courtship at royal courts, dancing parties on the Montmartre, and flirting in Parisian cafes.

    The pastimes of the past seem to be naughtiness compared to the volcano of the Las Vegas passions.

    In London, the Hermitage is now presenting its fine collection of Islamic art, at an exhibition entitled "Heavens on Earth." Over the centuries, Russia and the Orient have been tied alternately with the bonds of friendship and enmity, and the exhibit is stunning in its sumptuousness and elegance. The treasures on display include jewelry offered by Nadir Shah as a gift to the Russian Empress Elizabeth, Persian miniatures from rare manuscripts, and weaponry decorated with diamonds and rubies.

    Both the British media and the public have lavishly praised the Hermitage's show, noting that London hasn't seen anything of such scale and artistic value since 1976 when a festival of Islam was held in the UK.

    In Berlin, the Hermitage has staged, in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum, an exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and of Mannerist prints. Mapplethorpeis a contemporary photographer who died in 1989. His expressive photos, hanging alongside refined prints by artists of the Mannerism age, create an extraordinary effect, revealing surprisingly many commonalities between the past and the present.

    The Germans have responded by loaning to the Hermitage Rembrandt's famous "The Blinding of Samson" from the Frankfurt Stedel Schule's museum. This painting has been taken out of Germany no more than three times before. The display of Rembrandt's work continues the series "Masterpieces from World Museums at the Hermitage."

    The Hermitage's energy, much of it coming from Director Mikhail Piotrovsky, has turned the museum into one of Russia's most promoted brands. Pictures from the Hermitage can now be seen even on mobile telephone screens.

    The Hermitage does not confine itself to the Winter Palace, but is actively building its collection into the system of mass communications.

    The museum's exterior policies can well be compared to those of a large television network.

    If not for the Hermitage, the film director Alexander Sokurov would not have been able to shoot his innovative motion picture "The Russian Ark." The museum opened its halls to several thousand extras cast in crowd scenes, unpacked its decorative tableware collections, and lit up hundreds of chandeliers, thus making it possible for Sokurov to shoot a masterpiece that would gross $3,000,000 in the United States alone. This is an unheard-of box-office return for an art-house movie "The Russian Ark" is.

    The Hermitage is extending its eastward outreach, too. Many of its holdings are now displayed as part of itinerant exhibitions in Siberia and the Far East.

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