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History of St. Petersburg Museum: Rumyantsev Mansion

 

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A Peek Inside the Soviet Union's Secret Collection of Erotica

Published: June 24, 2014 (Issue # 1816)



  • There are 12,000 items in the collection, from Japanese engravings to 1970s romance novels.
    Photo: Joy Neumeyer / For SPT

  • The collection includes erotica and modern novels owned by aristocrats.
    Photo: Joy Neumeyer / For SPT

In the depths of the Russian State Library, Marina Chestnykh takes the creaking elevator up to the ninth floor. She walks past stack after stack of books behind metal cages, the shelves barely visible in the dim light from the frosted-glass windows. This is the spetskhran, or special storage, collection of material deemed ideologically harmful by the Soviet state.

She arrives at a cage in the floors back corner. When she inserts a key in the padlock, the door swings open to reveal thousands of books, paintings, engravings, photographs and films all, in one way or another, connected to sex.

It was the kinkiest secret in the Soviet Union: Across from the Kremlin, the countrys main library held a pornographic treasure trove. Founded by the Bolsheviks as a repository for aristocrats erotica, the collection eventually grew to house 12,000 items from around the world, ranging from 18th-century Japanese engravings to Nixon-era romance novels.

Off limits to the general public, the collection was always open to top party brass, some of whom are said to have enjoyed visiting. Today, the collection is still something of a secret. There is no complete compendium of its contents, and many items remain uncatalogued.

We chose to preserve it intact, as a relic of the era when it was created, Chestnykh said.

Chestnykh, who traverses the drafty stacks in a purple knit poncho, is the collections main keeper. She only learned of its existence in the 1990s long after joining the library in the 1980s when she was asked to help reassign its holdings to a different department.

Did its contents come as a surprise?

Yes and no, she said. There was a special collection, so I knew something pretty unusual had to be kept there.

The collections story begins in the 1920s, when the Bolsheviks turned what was once the Rumyantsev arts museum into the countrys national library. As the newly founded Lenin Library began amassing literature, it also opened a rare book department to house compromising materials, acquired primarily from the confiscated libraries of the nobility.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBAs ongoing Breakfast with the Director series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at Sounds of the Universe, a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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