The Savitsky Museum houses one of the most remarkable art collections in the former Soviet Union. About half of the paintings were brought here in Soviet times by artist and ethnographer Igor Savitsky, who managed to preserve an entire generation of avant-garde work that was proscribed and destroyed elsewhere in the country for not conforming to the socialist realism of the times.
The paintings found protection in these isolated backwaters (Nukus, after all, being literally the last place you'd look for anything) and it’s interesting to hear how this nonconformist museum survived during the Soviet era. An English-language guided tour can really help to contextualise the collection and acts as an introduction to the fascinating stories behind many of the paintings.
The museum owns some 90,000 artefacts, including more than 15,000 paintings, only a fraction of which are actually on display. The museum also has some archaeological displays from the Ellik Kala fortresses, including Zoroastrian ossuaries from Shilpik (Chilpak) and a bodhisattva statue from Guldursan. There are also some ethnographic displays, with a fine collection of jewellery, camel bags and wedding jewellery.
A second building opened in 2017 to display a wider selection of treasures, with a restaurant planned.
When we visited there was talk of closing the museum on Monday, so check the website if you plan to be in Nukus for only one day. Tuesday and Friday are free for school groups and can be very busy.