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Meet the winners!

Russian Art Focus

07 September, 2021

Award winner in the Best Publication category Theo Merz; member of the jury, Anna Somers Cocks, founder of The Art Newspaper; Inna Bazhenova, co-founder of the prize and publisher of Russian Art Focus; Anastasia Spirenkova, a member of Agitation, win

The Russian Art Focus Prize for English-language texts on contemporary Russian art was presented for the first time at the annual viennacontemporary fair in Vienna.

International art fairs around the world are all in flux, changing their format, style and scale. Success is now determined by the ability to adapt to ever moving goal posts on the fly. This year, viennacontemporary has regrouped in the centre of its eponymous city under a new director, Slovakian art critic Boris Ondreička . While local Viennese galleries are hosting visitors in their own space, international participants - together with the ‘Curated By’ projects - are housed in a temporary venue in the Alte Post, which is also currently undergoing renovations. Visitors enter what seems to be a building site, walk along corridors lined with wooden boards and walls with plaster falling off, to find the 28 galleries on view, from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine. viennacontemporary has long been a focal point for collectors and art lovers in central and southeastern Europe and it has marked the beginning of the Autumn art season of 2021.

The selection of art on view at the Alte Post this year is appealing for its affordability, with no top end works on sale. Art lovers are, instead, treated to an abundance of diversity with no defining genre stealing the show: There are Romanian painters from the Doris Ghetta Gallery, digital and analogue prints by Slovenian photographers at Liubljana’s Galerija Fotografija booth, graphic works by Pavel Pepperstein (b. 1966) at Galerie Iragui and a conceptually and plastically strong project by Ukrainian artist Nikita Kadan (b. 1982) shown by the Voloshyn Gallery. Among the gems of ‘Curated By’ is Monica Bonvicini’s project ‘Stagecage’, shown at Galerie Krinzinger. This artist has once again demonstrated her ability to combine provocative messages with elegant form and to move freely from one medium and technique to another. The project ‘History Repeats Itself Twice, First as a Tragedy, Then as a Farce’, put together by Russian curator Olesya Turkina for the Vienna’s Charim Gallery, also stands out.

Among the most important events which formed part of the international fair programme was the winners’ ceremony award of the inaugural Russian Art Focus Prize, established by our magazine. British journalist Theo Merz won the top spot in the Best Publication category for his article ‘A Tribute to the Russian Avant-Garde Sets Off a Storm’ published in The Economist in 2019. Agitatsia (Agitation) group comprising five young writers (Vera Zamyslova, Pavel Mitenko, Anastasia Spirenkova, Antonina Stebur, and Dasha Filippova) won the Best Research category. Agitatsia, represented in Vienna by curator, researcher and producer Anastasia Spirenkova, submitted an essay ‘Party of the Dead: Necroaesthetics and Transformation of Political Performativity in Russia During the Pandemic’, originally published in the online magazine ARTMargins in 2021.

The winners were announced and congratulated by the award’s co-founders, Russian entrepreneurs, collectors and art patrons Inna Bazhenova and Dmitry Aksenov, who stressed that the main mission of the Russian Art Focus Prize was to bring contemporary Russian art closer to the international community, to give it more visibility and relevance on the international art scene. The ceremony was preceded by a discussion led by members of the jury who flew to Vienna especially for the occasion: Nicolas V. Iljine, V-A-C curator Ekaterina Chuchalina and founder of The Art Newspaper Anna Somers Cocks, in which they shared their impressions about the texts that had been selected for the vote. The conversation was moderated by Jo Vickery, editor-in-chief of Russian Art Focus, an expert on the Russian art market, who worked for over 20 years at Sotheby’s. Vickery said that the level of the texts selected for the jury’s vote was incredibly high, despite the prize being awarded for the first time. She was personally interested in the extent to which the texts, whether journalistic or investigative, were reflective of current life. The jury also included French curator Jean-Hubert Martin, Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage, and Zelfira Tregulova, director of the State Tretyakov Gallery.

Hans-Ulrich Obrist, member of the Advisory Board of Russian Art Focus and member of the jury of the Russian Art Focus Prize, who joined the ceremony online in Vienna, set the intellectual tone of the event. He wished the new prize to become a kind of “book production machine”. And he was sure that this initiative would be long-lasting and fruitful.

A special episode of the celebration was initiated and implemented jointly with the Russian Prigov Foundation and blockchain platform The Art Exchange. Seven short video messages recorded in 2004 by prominent Moscow conceptualist, artist and poet Dmitri Prigov were turned into 77 NFTs, 11 copies per video. Fourteen NFTs remained the property of the Foundation, and the rest were donated to all winners, shortlisted artists, jury members, and the first 25 guests who came to the ceremony in the fair’s lounge. “If Dmitri Prigov were alive, he would certainly be the first to try all the new techniques,” said Katja Gaebel, a member of the foundation's board. And he would certainly have been invited to sit on the jury of the Russian Art Focus Prize.

The next prize is announced for 2022. The award ceremony will take place in Venice during the Biennale of Contemporary Art.

Russian Art Focus Prize

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