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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chemicals and Culture

David Sarkisyan, the director of the Shchusev Architecture Museum, often lets it drop that he has lived four lives.

  "I am exceptionally lucky as a person, because despite having four professions I have never 'worked,' my wage was always small, but I only did things that I liked, I am one of the happiest people in the world," he said.

Born in Yerevan, Sarkisyan came to Moscow to study when he was a teenager. He has dabbled in professions ranging from science to film. This year he turned 60 and has been enjoying his fourth life as director of the Shchusev Architecture Museum for five years.

Sarkisyan was always attracted to science.

"I have nothing against religion, but I am 100 percent -- no, a 200 percent atheist," he said.

"I respect many religious people but I do not believe in a God, I do believe in the reality of this life and I think the only way to find out more about it is through science."

He studied physiology at Moscow State University.

"After I finished, I had the best three years of my life, I did absolutely nothing but read ... under a system known to us as a postgraduate program," he laughed.

"You do an exam on philosophy, which was essentially Marxist at the time, you do a test on another language, and I already knew English fluently, and you get to do some kind of experimental investigation, which no one supervises or reads, so it was a three-year rest."

After Sarkisyan finished his postgraduate degree, he went on to do a doctorate in pharmaceuticals, but never completed it and started working as a pharmacist. For 15 years he studied the nervous system through many experiments. "In those 15 years, hundreds of white rats died in my hands," he said with a tinge of regret.

Sarkisyan said he discovered a nerve stimulant that was thought initially to be harmful to the body, and invented a medicine called ipidacrine, which is used in Japan to help treat diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Perestroika signalled the end of many things in Sarkisyan's life. He stopped working in pharmaceuticals, divorced his wife and walked into a completely different field almost by accident.

Sarkisyan had an acquaintance, Rustam Khamdamov, who was trying to get out of Russia. Sarkisyan had many connections at that time and, as he became friends with Khamdamov, found out that he was a filmmaker and the reason he wanted to get out of Russia was to make more movies. "I convinced him that he did not need to leave Russia to make films, and that is how we started working on something together," Sarkisyan said.

Sarkisyan took an indirect path to become Shchusev Architecture Museum director.
Sarkisyan was the first assistant director of the movie "Anna Karamazoff," written and directed by Khamdamov. Starring French actor Jeanne Moreau, it went to Cannes, but was never released due to problems with the French producer.

"At 44 ... I walked on the red carpet next to Jeanne Moreau," Sarkisyan said. "It was a glamorous end to my career in film," he said.

"While all my friends were becoming oligarchs and politicians, two things I could have easily done myself, I chose to do television documentaries. At this time it was free -- I had access to all the archives and I could make films about everything that I was interested in," he said.

Sarkisyan admitted that most of his films were not professional, "but they were all ideologically fresh, they always had something new," he said.

The film of Sarkisyan's still shown today is "Comrade Kollontai and her Lovers," a documentary about the revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai. "I was always great with titles," Sarkisyan said.

In 2001, a friend told Sarkisyan about the Shchusev State Architecture Museum, and about the possibility of running it.

"I was not interested so much in architecture but in the museum," he said.

"Most people are idiots, and they produce cultural porridge that they have managed to transfer into the rest of civilization, idiotic things like astrology. The museum is an island in this sea of rubbish and is the only way to preserve real culture," he said.

Bolshoi Gorod magazine's art critic, Yekaterina Degot, praised Sarkisyan's work at the museum.

"I think Sarkisyan has created an amazing space for contemporary culture and exhibitions," she said. "I am always interested in what is going on there, and it's somewhere I frequent with my friends."

Sarkisyan is not modest when giving advice on being a museum director. "Running a museum is like being a president, it's not something you can train for," he laughed. "If you need to ask how to do it, you're not right for the job."