A statement from Maria Baibakova, Baibakov Art Projects director

I profusely apologize for my offensive article from October 2014 issue of Russian Tatler. The text is heavily edited and when I translate it to English I can see it is insensitive and crude. I am ashamed of these words and apologize wholeheartedly to all who were offended.

The concept that I was attempting – running a household like a corporation – was lost in translation. My general goal was to share some Western best practices in staff management that I learned at Institut Villa Pierrefeu from Butler John Robertson when I attended the school as a lark after completing business school. There is an unfortunate history in Russia of mistreating household staff, so my underlying hope when I was given this assignment was to incentivize Russians to treat staff fairly by giving employers a financial incentive to behave in a more ethical manner (e.g. dismiss staff professionally without emotional abuse and provide fair severance pay, etc). I was hoping to inspire the Tatler audience to set clear boundaries with employees, as any boss in a professional setting must do.

As a woman who lived a very humble childhood I consider myself a balanced person who places the highest value in hard work and mutual respect. I see this an opportunity for self reflection.

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Cosmoscow, in an eggshell

Marcel Broodthaers’ “Portemanteau,” one of the Belgian artist’s eggshell works from 1965, was among the biggest sales at Cosmoscow, the art fair that closed last Sunday in Moscow.

The Broodthaers and a Sigmar Polke painting (both sold for an undisclosed sum rumored to be around 2 million Euro), made their way into Russian collections via the New York and London – based Michael Werner gallery, one of the 26 participants of Cosmoscow this year.

Cosmoscow, a bird's eye view. Image courtesy of Cosmoscow.

Cosmoscow, a bird’s eye view. Image courtesy of Cosmoscow.

Michael Werner was not the only gallery leaving the art fair with a promise to return – the second edition of Cosmoscow was considered a general success by both international and Russian participants. People praised the space (the airy, light-filled Manege pavilion right next to the Kremlin), the organizers (the radiant Margarita Pushkina and Sandra Nedvetskaia), the management and amenities (“just like Basel”, as one gallerist claimed) and the parties (where vodka, unsurprisingly, “flows like water”).

More importantly: there were deals to be made. Sales were reported by most galleries across various price levels. Moscow – based Triumph sold works by AES+F and two stained – glass window installations with characters from South Park by Recycle Group; HLAM successfully placed wooden wall pieces by up-and-comer Arsenii Zhilyaev, while Campoli Presti found a Russian home for their Daniel Lefcourt canvas.

This is definitely not Art Basel or Frieze, where entire booths can be sold out before the fair even opens. But by Russian art world standards, it’s serious progress.

The market here is a mysterious, untamed beast: art fairs have previously had little success (in fact the first and oldest one, Art Moscow, has just officially folded), collectors notoriously prefer to spend their millions at auctions in London or New York, and galleries are scarce and constantly fighting for survival. Cosmoscow, with its polished, professional appeal (it even had its own Artsy page) is a step forward for a market constantly dealing with undeveloped infrastructure and hostile policies. The fair is also an opportunity to give Russian art – and especially young Russian artists – much needed international exposure. In fact, young Russian art – by the likes of Anya Titova, Ivan Egelskii, Cyril Garshin, Anastasia Potemkina and others – had a strong presence in the booths. Pushkina and Nedvetskaia made the smart move of limiting the amount of artists Russian galleries could show by two in order to create an insightful experience for the viewers and a more wholesome presentation for the artists.

The fair’s opening night also hosted a charity auction selling contemporary art to benefit Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation, with a large focus on emerging Russian art. Vodianova, who, along with boyfriend Antoine Arnault, is on Cosmoscow’s board of trustees, was able to raise over 200,000 Euros from sales of donated works.

In line with Cosmoscow’s educational mission, the fair hosted a new acquisition program organized by V-A-C foundation and M HKA, the Antwerp Contemporary Art Museum.

Taus Makhacheva's Cosmoscow treat

Taus Makhacheva’s Cosmoscow treat

A work by Dagestan – based Taus Makhacheva was selected from a group of four young artists by a panel of curators, and will now be acquired by the M HKA collection with funds provided by the V-A-C foundation. To celebrate the announcement, the organizers of COSMOSCOW asked to Taus to do something special for the opening night’s dinner. The artist decided to create a tongue-and-cheek chocolate cake in the form of the map of Russia, dated to 2013. The dinner guests had the chance to claim their own stake of Russian land, with Kamchatka being the most oversubscribed after the guests realized the map pre-dated the annexation of Crimea.

Several days after the fair closed, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox church known for his strained relationship with contemporary art and proximity to political elites, gave a speech at a conference at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, in which he once again denounced what he calls “outrageous forms of culture”: “they are showing us something ridiculous, and yet there’s always someone there to applaud…when someone gives us something nasty, something stupid and tells us its art, we can not compromise.”

It’s not quite clear which specific instances of “outrageous culture” the Patriarch is referring to, but it is certain that his position is slowly becoming official. The fact that Cosmoscow has chosen to persist in this hostile environment is a brave move that we, in fact, do see as worthy of an ovation.

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Art, commerce and some broken locks

This week Cosmoscow, Russia’s sole remaining contemporary art fair, has announced its program and list of participants. The fair, which will happen for the second time (its debut happened in December 2010 at our old home in the Red October Chocolate Factory) will take place in Moscow’s Central Manege from September 19 to 21. Led by directors Margarita Pushkina and Sandra Nedvetskaia, this edition will present 26 local and international galleries, including the London and Paris based Campoli Presti (which is bringing work by one of our favorites – Daniel Lefcourt), Milan’s Massimo de Carlo, New York’s Michael Werner and Dusseldorf’s Beck and Eggeling, which made the interesting choice of showing work by Aljoscha, an artist born in the Ukraine. Many of Moscow’s galleries and foundations world will make an appearance as well: Regina Gallery is presenting works by Russia’s blue-chip artists Pavel Pepperstein and Semyon Faibisovich, XL Gallery will show an installation by Innovation prize winner (and Baibakov Art Projects alumna) Irina Korina, while V-A-C Foundation will premiere Collecting Young Russian Art 2014, a new joint program with Antwerp’s Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst designed to support and promote young artists hailing from Russia.

While the scale of the fair is modest by international standards, the fact that it is happening at all is already an accomplishment: Art Moscow, Cosmoscow’s counterpart and Russia’s oldest art fair, was cancelled this year due to a combination of reasons ranging from politics (by now its hardly surprising that some galleries and artists could boycott a fair in Russia) to economics (the art market in the country is not exactly booming) to good old – fashioned censorship.

Erik Bulatov's Horizon, 1971

Erik Bulatov’s Horizon, 1971-1972

Following a series of misfortunes (like the recent cancellation of a Banksy retrospective) this fall is off to a promising start for Central Manege: in addition to COSMOSCOW, the venue will also hold an exhibition of Erik Bulatov, due to open on the 9th of September on the -1 floor. Bulatov, one of the most important artists of the Moscow Conceptual school, hasn’t had a major show in the homeland since the Tretyakov Gallery’s 2006 retrospective. The 81 year old artist, now based in Paris, will be showing both new work and paintings as well as book illustrations from earlier periods of his nearly 60-year career. The centerpiece of the show is “The Painting and the Audience”, the artist’s reflection on Alexander Ivanov’s “The Appearance of Christ Before the People”, a seminal work in the canon of Russian academic art. Bulatov’s large – scale canvases featuring bold slogans and symbols set against empty landscapes often question utopia, power and propaganda – a very fitting choice of show for Manege, located just steps away from the Kremlin walls.

The Melnikov House in Moscow's Krivoarbatsky Lane

The Melnikov House in Moscow’s Krivoarbatsky Lane

Last but not least, Moscow’s Melnikov House, one of the masterpieces of the avant – garde architect, is in the midst of another legal dispute. In recent weeks Moscow’s Shchusev Museum of Architecture attempted to take over the building in Krivoarbatsky Lane in order to begin the process of turning it into a public museum. Apparently, this process was halted by the fact that the building is the home of the architect’s granddaughter Ekaterina Karinskaya, who has been living there since 2006 and legally owns 1/8 of the property and has been the monumnet’s unofficial caretaker. It seems that the house was recently broken into by museum representatives while Karinskaya was away, locks changed and historical doorframe ruined. Karinskaya has since been able to make her way into the building, and is now barricaded inside, refusing to leave before her demands regarding to the restoration are met by museum officials.

The house, built in 1929 and considered a masterpiece of constructivist architecture, is in poor condition and desperate need of repair, both inside and out. For now, it seems the process of restoring the building and cataloguing its furnishing for the future museum is put on hold. While the idea of opening the Melnikov house to the public is something we could only dream of, Karinskaya’s insistence on having it happen on her terms is perfectly understandable – the Moscow government is not exactly known for cherishing its architecture, as the recent destruction of the Proshin house on Tverskaya has demonstrated once again.

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Drama in the courtroom – and beyond

Vor, Koza, Kasper and Mama reunited

Last time we’ve heard from Oleg Vorotnikov aka Vor (“thief” in Russian), the self-proclaimed leader of Voina, an artist collective best known for drawing a 200-foot phallus on Liteinyi Bridge in front of the FSB building in St Petersburg, he was voicing his support for the annexation of Crimea. This essentially pro-Putin turn in Voina’s politics was unexpected, especially as Vorotnikov, his wife Natalya Sokol (aka Koza), and two small children, Kasper and Mama, were on the run from what they claim is a politically – motivated prosecution at home in Russia and living with no documents somewhere in Italy.

Two weeks ago, things got even weirder: Voina’s website reported that Vorotnikov had been harshly beaten in Venice, arrested by the Italian police and faces extradition to Russia. The exact order of events is unclear: Vor and Koza claim that they were attacked “with metal tubes and bricks” by 12 occupants of the Ex Ospizio squat in the Santa Marta neighborhood of Venice, where they had been living for the past two months. After receiving medical treatment (30 stitches to the head) Vorotnikov was identified as a subject of an Interpol arrest warrant and sent to jail. Unsurprisingly, the Ex Ospizio squatters’ story is completely different: according to a recent Facebook post, Vorotnikov had attacked them with an axe and later provided false information to the police on their political agenda, accusing them of dealing drugs and other unlawful activity.

Whatever the actual circumstances of this domestic drama, an extradition potentially has very real consequences for Vorotnikov: in Russia he will face trial on charges of hooliganism, insult of a representative of authority and using violence against a representative of authority. In this case “using violence” literally means tearing hats off the heads of some police officers at a political protest rally in 2011. Ironically, Vorotnikov would be much better off facing a trial for attacking someone with an axe in Italy. The classic combination of charges the artist faces back home is all too familiar by previous politically motivated cases decided in Russian courts, which means one thing: a fair trial is not to be expected. Luckily, yesterday Voina’s website reported that the Italian court has rejected the extradition request from Russia and that Vorotnikov can stay in Venice as long as he reports to the local police office twice a week (and stays out of street brawls, we’re guessing).

Russian art / legal system news do not end there: last week the Dzerjinsky court of St. Petersburg has decided that another artist and political activist, Petr Pavlensky, will not need to undergo a round of psychiatric evaluations in a mental institution following an action in support of Maidan protesters that he staged earlier this year.

Petr Pavlensky's Freedom action

Petr Pavlensky’s pro – Maidan action in St. Petersburg

Back in February, Pavlensky and several associates constructed Maidan – style barricades made of burning tires on the Malo-Konyushennyi Bridge in St. Petersburg while shouting political slogans and waving a Ukranian flag. The whole performance, which came to be known as “Liberty”, lasted no more than 20 minutes, but Pavlensky’s resulting legal troubles have been dragging on for months. The court’s investigation into the artist’s mental health is anything but new: Pavlensky already underwent evaluation and was ruled perfectly sane less than a year ago, after his notorious “Fixation” action, during which the artist nailed his scrotum to the pavement of Red Square last winter.

If after all this you are wondering what’s going on with Russian art’s most famous political prisoners, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot, rest assured they are doing well. The Baltimore City Paper reports that they were recently seen on the set of Kevin Spacey’s hit show House of Cards. Apparently, the young women will appear in the political show’s third season, making a swift (but by now far from unexpected) turn from dramatic political performances to TV drama.

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In other news

It seems that in the past few weeks, Russia has been in the headlines for reasons that leave more to be desired. Stepping into the global conversation this month, Russia’s two greatest cultural institutions – the ballet and the avant-garde – picked up where diplomacy left off.

The legendary 0,10 exhibition, recreated at Tate Modern

The legendary 0,10 exhibition, recreated at Tate Modern

On July 16th, the Tate Modern opened  Malevich: Revolutionary Of Russian Art – the artist’s first retrospective in years, and the first one ever to take place on British soil. The Tate was able to accomplish the herculean task of pulling together works spanning 30 years of Kazimir Malevich’s career from a variety of public and private collections – from early figurative paintings of Russian peasants and religious scenes, to suprematism, and back to figurativism again. The Black Square – its 1923 version – is at the heart of the show, which includes a recreation of the legendary 0,10 Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings from 1915, where the first Black Square was famously shown hanging across the corner of a room along with works by Vladimir Tatlin, Liubov Popova, Ivan Puni, and others. 0,10 was reenacted from a single precious black and white photograph documenting the exhibition in Marsovo Pole, Petrograd (present day St. Petersburg) almost 100 years ago.  The British press has been calling Malevich one of the best exhibits of the year, and we can definitely agree. It should be noted that the Tate has been consistent with its commitment to support Russian art, starting with its Russian and Eastern European Acquisitions committee of which Baibakov Art Projects’ Maria Baibakova is a member.

Despite these precarious times in US – Russian foreign relations, an evening to celebrate David Hallberg, the Bolshoi ballet’s first American principle dancer, held on July 17th at the Lincoln Center, provided a common ground for celebration of the arts.

For the first time in history, The Bolshoi – one of Russia’s most celebrated cultural institutions – has brought not only its ballet troupe, but also its Opera, Chorus and Orchestra, for a two – week long series of performances at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

David Hallberg in The Bolshoi's Swan Lake at Lincoln Center

David Hallberg in The Bolshoi’s Swan Lake at Lincoln Center. Image courtesy of David Hallberg’s Instagram.

The 32-year old Hallberg has spent three years dancing with the Bolshoi after being invited to join the troupe by Sergei Filin, its Director. Needless to say, those three years, marked by the acid attack on Filin and the following controversy surrounding the Bolshoi, were not easy for the South Dakota – born, Arizona – raised Hallberg. But he came out of them as a stronger dancer, advancing dramatically and technically, which was evident in his stellar performance as Prince Sigfried in that night’s Swan Lake, which he gave alongside the Bolshoi prima Svetlana Zakharova.

Following a three – hour performance at the at the David H. Koch Theater, the evening continued with dinner at the Lincoln Ristorante, organized by Lincoln Center Global and hosted by by our very own Baibakova, alongside co-chairs and global philanthropists of Russian descent Nasiba Adilova, Miroslava Duma, Anna Nikolaevsky, Yana Peel, and Inga Rubinstein. Full disclosure: Baibakov Art Projects serves in an advisory capacity to Lincoln Center Global, the consulting arm of Lincoln Center that looks beyond the campus in New York City, propelling cultural development and advising artistic pioneers around the world – and we couldn’t be more proud.

The dinner, attended by guests ranging from the Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov to curator Neville Wakefield, collectors Phil and Shelley Aarons, curator of the Whitney Museum Scott Rothkopf (whose current Jeff Koons retrospective we just love), dealer Jeffrey Deitch, to Belarusian Supermodel Maryna Lynchuk – was a home-coming for Hallberg, who continues to dance with the American Ballet Theatre through his Bolshoi engagement. That’s some Russian  – American exchange we wish there was more of.

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An Oh So Quiet Manifesta

A month ago, the fate of Manifesta10, the European art biennial that was set to open in St. Petersburg on June 28th, was still undecided. Some artists were boycotting the exhibition, others were dropping out, staff was not being paid, Manifesta’s curator Kaper Koenig (clearly unhappy with the operation) expressed serious doubts that the show would actually ever open to the public. But the show opened on time, and as planned – or so it seemed.

“Despite the provocations, Saint Petersburg became a center of contemporary art” – proclaimed the cover of The Petersburg Times, a daily paper published by the city government – the same government that provided a large chunk of the show’s budget (around 4,3 million dollars).

It is not exactly certain which “provocations” the paper is referring to specifically (in recent years, the term has basically become a universal tag for all behavior and ideas out of line with the official regime), but it is has long been clear that Manifesta10 wasn’t exactly looking to provoke.

In interviews, Koenig made a point of the biennial being a guest of the city rather than an intruder, or, as he later formulated, of making a Manifesta “without a manifesto.” This Manifesta was discreet by choice.

Thomas Hirschhorn's ABSCHLAG (2014), one of the most massive installations in the General Staff building. Image courtesy of Manifesta.

Thomas Hirschhorn’s
ABSCHLAG (2014), one of the most massive installations in the General Staff building. Image courtesy of Manifesta.

The show in the General Staff building, a new wing of the Hermitage rebuilt to house Contemporary and Modern art (when we say ‘new’, we mean it – some walls were literally being painted while the first guests were roaming its halls), boasted a list of participants one could encounter at any other international art exhibition – Baibakov Art Projects alum Thomas Hirschhorn, Maria Lassing, Dominique Gonzalez – Foerster, Francis Alÿs, Bruce Nauman, Wolfgang Tillmans, plus some Russian additions like Vlad Mamyshev – Monroe, Timur Novikov, Pavel Pepperstein and Sasha Sukhareva. Many of the international art-world stars have never been shown in the city before, and it seemed like there was a special effort to give both the artists and the audience their space.

In addition to the main exhibition space, some works from Manifesta were integrated in the Winter Palace, home to the Hermitage’s permanent collection. Here, Manifesta’s presence felt a bit forced. Works by artists such as Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Tatzu Nishi and others were not easy to locate; many were shown in spaces that felt peripheral – a delicate installation made of face powder by Сarla Black, for example, was hiding behind a closed door. Reflecting this general attitude, museum guards seemed skeptical and unimpressed – when approached for directions, the typical reply was “yes, I think saw something over there, near our Caravaggios.” The Hermitage, with its imperial past and encyclopedic collection, provides endless possibilities for interpretation, subversion and interrogation.  But in the case of Manifesta, the opportunity was missed – most of the artists, and the Hermitage itself, seemed disinterested.

Susan Philipsz The River Cycle (Neva) 2014, image courtesy of Manifesta 10.

Susan Philipsz’s The River Cycle (Neva), a sound installation in the Winter Palace. Image courtesy of Manifesta.

When it came to the politics – Ukraine, ‘gay propaganda’, nationalism, etc. – Manifesta made a point of ticking off all the “big issues”. There was a full room of photographs that Boris Mikhailov shot during the protests in Maidan square; a series of portraits of famous homosexuals by Marlene Dumas; an installation by Erik Van Lieshout focused on the cats living in the Hermitage’s basements with numerous references to Pussy Riot. But at times it seemed that the show was making little effort beyond acknowledging the issues that everyone knew it simply could not ignore.

Generally speaking, the exhibition succeeded in bringing important contemporary artists to a city that sees little contemporary art (and we hope attendance rates will show that people appreciate the effort). Yet this Manifesta left the impression that it could have taken place anywhere else. Given the show’s location in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2014, this is not necessarily a good thing.

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That Time for Dreams Again? Young Biennale, Kabakovs in Paris, and Koenig expresses doubts on Manifesta

As June kicks in, Baibakov Art Projects will shift to its summer regime, but before taking any breaks, there were a few stories we had to get out there.

A Time for DreamsThe Dreamers

Last week, the Moscow Biennale of Young Art unveiled its roster of over 60 artists from all over the globe (though yes, mainly Russia and “/Germany,” which we read as “temporarily crashing in Berlin.”) Set to open June 26, this year’s biennale is curated by David Elliott, with the theme “A Time for Dreams. “

You can find the full roster here (scroll down) but to name a few highlights from Russia, a solid representation of the already-not-so-new generation, perhaps familiar to some of our readers: Ivan Plusch, Olya Kroytor, ZIP Group, Vladimir Logutov, Evgeny Granilschikov and of course RECYCLE


Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Strange City, Monumenta 2014, Paris.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, The Strange City, Monumenta 2014, Paris.

A Thoroughly Un-Monumental Monumenta…

Similarly dreamy is Ilya and Emilia Kabakov‘s “Strange City” commission at the Grand Palais’s Monumenta series, a work that almost never happened, due to budget woes. Maybe that would have been the best. Now in its sixth edition, the Monumenta project has filled the gorgeous, glassed-in interior of the palace with large-scale interventions by Daniel Buren, Christian Boltanski and Anish Kapoor. Rather than seize on the seemingly limitless possibilities of the space (imagine how much easier it would have been for the Man Who Flew Into Space…), the Kabakovs kept to the model seen in the Venice Biennale, of seamless little white structures organized around a cupola. Each offers its own monastic moment, with themes like “The Center of Cosmic Energy,” “How to Meet An Angel” and “The Empty Museum.” A bit off to the side, one also finds “The Dark Chapel” and “The White Chapel.” (You get the idea, perhaps?)

Don’t get us wrong – we have long loved the quiet power of Ilya Kabakov’s character albums, where the faint trace of pencil on paper was, in its own way, electric, sending tinges of longing, loneliness and a half-digested despair. This installation, however, seems to take the religion without the faith.

But perhaps you have a different take? “The Strange City” is on view through June 22, 2014, at the Grand Palais in Paris. (For more info, check here.)

Manifesta 10 Curator Kasper Koenig

Manifesta 10 Curator Kasper Koenig

Manifesta Destiny?

In a less dreamy state, we find Manifesta 10 curator Kasper KoenigOur curator has weathered quite the storm of protests – from the initial petitions, to the recent politically-motived loss of artists Chto Delat? and Pavel Althamer. Now in his final stretch (the show is due to open June 28, after all), you would think he could finally rest on his laurels?

Not quite. In an interview given to DW on May 25, Koenig admits that for the first time he’s not certain if the exhibition will even happen. [[Find the original text - in Russian - here . All quotes are our translations for the purposes of this blog.]] Comparing the situation to “some kind of Latin American dictatorship,” Koenig points out that many of the complications around the setting – the law against homosexual propaganda, and the recent ban on cursing – could never have been expected when he signed on. On the subject of boycotts, he declares, frankly: “A boycott only makes sense when someone stands to lose from it. Putin’s government could care less about Manifesta.”

His troubles haven’t ended there. After relating an incident with a Francis Alys work, Koenig reveals that the Russian staff of Manifesta haven’t been paid for almost two months:

On the other hand, because of all these differences of opinion, the Russian team for Manifesta in Petersburg haven’t received a salary for seven weeks now. They don’t have unions looking out for them there. And quite honestly, I am allergic to situations where I have to act as a go-between between the two systems: Manifesta on the one hand, with its American-positivist perspectives, its missionary-like position bordering on religious – and the Russian side with its strategy of dragging on everything, not filling promises and so on. As a result, with a month to the exhibition’s opening, we’ve reached an impasse: nothing’s happening. 

When informed – and we can verify, sadly – that most things in Russia happen at the last minute, Koenig points to the obvious missed opportunities that approach leaves. At the end of the interview, he sums it up: “I have the very sobering feeling that they do not want us here. I have also learned not to watch television in Russia: even if you don’t understand the language, you can see that what’s happening is a powerful brain-washing. We must protect ourselves.”

To be fair, he should have seen this coming, especially after one of Koenig’s key allies – Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky - went on record talking about how Russians hate contemporary art, as opposed to “normal art, like the Old Masters.”

You can find Koenig’s full interview here, in Russian.

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