The Hermitage Museum, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious museums. Founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great purchased a large collection of Western European paintings, It has been open to the public since 1852 and currently its exhibitions contain over 3 million items. Recently, Francesco Rulli, Global CEO of Querlo, spoke with Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of Hermitage Museum, about the importance of understanding the values of past civilizations, the use of AI in the art world, and the initiatives Hermitage has been taking during the pandemic.
Professor Piotrovsky, born in Yerevan in the Armanian Soviet Socialist Republic, has been the Director of the Hermitage for 28 years succeeding his father who was Director for 26 years. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a year after he was appointed Director, Piotrovsky advocated for the opening of the museum to a wider audience. In addition, he is the Dean of Oriental Studies and the Head Chair of Mesology at the University of Saint Petersburg. For more information about him, you can visit his Wikipedia page.
To many, going to a museum to look at art was thought of as therapeutic and a way to step aside from all the troubles that life may bring and just enjoy being in the moment, surrounded by beautiful works. However, as covid struck, museums like the Hermitage had to completely rethink how they were going to deliver this experience to their visitors. The Hermitage created a large online program so that people could still visit the works virtually and the museum has had about 50 million visitors so far. Piotrovsky noted that as everything is falling apart in the pandemic, “we have to fight to keep the cultural relations because this is very important for the future.” Nevertheless, while it is important to think of art as therapeutic, he discussed how it is also necessary for people to understand the deeper, spiritual meanings behind the works.
Along with being CEO of Querlo, Francesco is also the Chief Digital Officer at the Opera Di Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence and has been working with their team to develop the Michelangelo AI. This application will allow the public to communicate with Michelangelo and help Francesco and the Opera understand what kinds of questions people have about him. When asked about the role of AI in the art world, Piotrovsky discussed how using AI is important, but the next step is to make it more human-like. By this, he means that AI should be prepared to both answer more complicated questions and provide responses that give users new ideas to think about that they normally wouldn’t have thought about asking.
As it slowly starts their reopening process, the Hermitage has been using AI in several of the exhibitions both to help with crowd control so people aren’t spending too much time standing in one place and to help people learn about the art in a deeper way. Visitors can first visit Hermitage’s website and social media and listen to different types of lectures and stories and then come to the museum and use their phones as guides.