In the eye of the storm: four galleries have opened their doors in Moscow this Spring
Opening at the a-s-t-r-a gallery
Despite an unstable art market in Russia and uncertainty hanging over its future, several young and optimistic art dealers are carrying on undeterred.
Spring 2022 hit the Russian art world very hard. Some dealers quickly shuttered their operations in Russia and left the country. Others, however, have just launched new art businesses which had already been long in the planning, right in the very heart of Moscow.
Nikolai Khorunzhy. Earth is listening to space. Omsk radio construction observatory, 1960s. Gelatin-silver print. Courtesy Béton
Béton (translated as ‘concrete’), a chic maisonette style space designed by renowned MEL architectural studio in Moscow, markets itself as a centre for the visual arts, rather than a gallery. Launched by Alexei Loginov, passionate collector of photography, and socialite and photographer Olga Michi, it is only partly focused on photography, both new and old. Vintage classics are re-contextualized as the curators weave them into present-day narratives and there is a twin focus on contemporary art. Béton has embarked on a partnership with Moscow’s Osnova Gallery which currently does not have its own physical space. It was founded in 2014 by Alyona Kurmasheva and Dmitri Vetrov and for many years now has been taking part in international art fairs. Responding to the current crisis, this year it gave its space at Liste Basel to a Ukrainian gallery. When asked about the unfortunate timing of the launch Olga Michi says, “It was not a spontaneous decision. We spent many months exploring galleries around Europe and especially in Germany”. Dmitri Vetrov is quite happy with the partnership as well. “It makes no sense to maintain our own dedicated space in Moscow these days. We were looking for a venue where we could put on around four exhibitions a year.” According to Vetrov, sales are not Beton’s main priority. The centre is going to earn cash on ticket sales and public events such as lectures and wine tastings. Osnova is currently working on the next exhibition “A Unicorn and the Lost Kingdom” (2nd of June to 3rd of July) and it includes pieces by both Russian and international artists such as Nikita Alexeev (1953-2021), Dunya Zakharova (b. 1987), Paruyr Davtyan (b. 1976), Jan Zoller (b. 1992) and others. The tickets cost 200 roubles (about 3 US dollars at the current official rate).
Nakovalnya, translated as ‘anvil’ is another two-storey haven for contemporary art (this new generation of art dealers seem to share a liking for steep stairs and eccentric names). For its three founders Ilya Ovcharenko, Dasha Volkova and Valentin Petukhov it is their first foray into the art market, as all of them come from film and video-blogging industries. “The anvil is a symbol of craftsmanship, really an authentic Russian sign. Art is at the meeting place of the material and the spiritual. It is the spark made by hitting metal with a hammer; it is the essence we want to put across,” Ovcharenko announced somewhat vaguely, adding that “the only thing we can do now in our bi-polar reality, when the old doesn't work anymore and the new hasn't been invented yet, is to cure ourselves with work”. This energetic trio plans to put up exhibitions of both established and emerging Russian artists, to launch an online shop, auctions, a design studio for crafting NFT projects, consultancy, and media about culture. Their first exhibition (on view until the 8th of June) was an immediate success. It was a gigantic project by the established Russian artist Pavel Pepperstein (b. 1966). He managed to turn “Mythogenous love of castes”, a surreal fantasy novel about Word War II that he co-authored in the 1990s with Sergei Anufriev (b. 1964), into a graphic novel, with the help of over 30 Russian and Ukrainian artists some of whom specialize in comics, while others are completely unfamiliar with this genre.
Serene, another oddly named space a few steps away from Nakovalnya, has put up an all-female inaugural exhibition. Called ‘Light Plumage’ and curated by Phillips employee Alexander Blanar, it brings together works by ten young Russian artists. Some of them, such as Moscow’s Irina Petrakova and St. Petersburg’s Liza Bobkova (b. 1987) have already made a name for themselves on the Russian art scene. This new gallery is owned by Russian businesswoman Irina Dzyuba and managed by Glyph Creative Agency, a marketing consulting company based in Russia and Kazakhstan. The next exhibition, by well-known Russian photographer Vladimir Glynin (b. 1977) whose portfolio includes both fashion shoots for glossy magazines and geometric abstraction, is scheduled to open on the 9th of June. The gallery is open by appointment only.
''Collective Self-fulfilling Prophesy About the Beautiful Tomorrow'' exhibition at the a-s-t-r-a gallery
a-s-t-r-a, a young and ambitious gallery that used to share a space with other art dealers at Moscow’s Cube, has moved to a larger venue formerly occupied by Osnova at Winzavod, a formery winery and the city’s first gallery cluster that houses some of Russia’s top galleries. Art dealer Alina Kryukova has chosen an uber-optimistic title “Collective Self-fulfilling Prophesy About the Beautiful Tomorrow” for her first show. Time will tell, if the dream about a beautiful tomorrow comes true for all the new galleries and the Russian art market itself.