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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Swearbots, Pussy Riot, and a glimpse Out of Time

Admittedly, from the Western perspective, things have been a bit rocky in Russia lately. (In a piece for the New Republic, satirical bloggers Kermlin suggested giving up optimism and instead start placing bets on the worst possible outcomes, as either way you’re a winner.) Manifesta has had to make fresh assurances that their show is going on (though Pavel Althamer has followed Chto Delat‘s lead in dropping out), even as the Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky gave the world the headline-ready quote: “People in general hate contemporary art. In Russia – Russia is in general more conservative than the other countries – but all over the world contemporary art is not something which is considered to be good together with the normal art, the Old Masters.”

Beware The Swearbots

E.T.I.'s action on the Red Square, April 18, 1991

E.T.I.’s action on the Red Square, April 18, 1991

On April 23, 2014, the Russian government announced that soon bloggers who garner a readership of 3000 are more – and remember, this is a country where Livejournal is still thriving – will be now considered press, which means they are now subject to the same regulations and liabilities as official press. In short, this means they can be censored. And as a first step to that censorship, Putin has announced that as of May 1, authors of works of art (including film and literature) can be fined for the usage of obscenity. This expands a similar law that passed last April, banning obscenity from media (but let’s keep in mind that the “media” now includes personal blogs.)

The law is reputedly intended to help cultivate and protect the Russian language, which is, paradoxically, quite revered for the scale and scope of its curse words. According to The Moscow Times, however, there is actually only a short list that’s been banned. They refer to what was probably the best government panel ever, reporting:

In December 2013, the Institute of Russian Language at the Russian Academy of Sciences complied a list of four words that constitute swearing and will thus be banned. Two depict male and female reproductive organs, one describes the process of copulation and the last refers to a promiscuous woman.

(You can read the full article here.)

For its part, the BBC reports, ominously, that the policy will be enforced by “Swearbots.” Swearbots, sweeeeeaaarrr! (Sorry, we had to.)

But, in deference to our fair Swearbots, we have relegated the incredibly important history behind the illustrating image in this one link. We suggest you check it out.


A still from "NEVREMYA," the latest collaboration of Antonina Baever, Valentin Diaconov and Dima Venkov

A still from “NEVREMYA,” the latest collaboration of Antonina Baever, Valentin Diaconov and Dima Venkov

On a more uplifting (in a dark, cynical way) note, Antonina Baever, Valentin Diaconov and Dima Venkov have once more joined forces to produce another episode of their satirical news show. This one – Nevremya, something like “OUT OF TIME,” but in the sense of dislocation, not allotment – is framed as a report from future times, when Russian art is enjoying a Renaissance. Segments include a cameo by the ZIP Group, who play the army’s special forces, an elite division trained to ruthlessly churn out meaningless exhibitions and even more meaningless press statements. We particularly enjoyed a one-on-one with artist Valery Chtak, who wonders out loud how one is supposed to make art after Pussy Riot. It’s in Russian, alas, but those who can, enjoy:


Pussy Riot talks Zone of Rights at the Frieze Art Fair

Maria Alyokhina and Nadia Tolokonnikova in Washington DC, May 6, 2014.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadia Tolokonnikova in Washington DC, May 6, 2014.

Speaking of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina and Nadia Tolokonnikova were back in the headlines after yesterday’s visit to Washington, DC, where they urged the US to keep applying pressure to Putin.  Next stop on the tour? The Frieze Art Fair, where this Friday, the pair will sit down for a chat with the New Yorker‘s David Remnick. Considering that they famously swore off art earlier this year, we can expect that the focus will be on Zone of Rights, their prison advocacy program.

In related news, New York Magazine reports that the women will participate in the First Supper Symposium in Oslo, a seminar on feminist protest art that will feature the participation of noted theorist Judith Butler, whom they hope to take back with them to Russia to conduct a similar symposium there.

While many Russian women are feminists, Nadya explained, they don’t identify as such because of a lack of access to feminist theory. “We had a very strong tradition [of feminism] during our revolution in 1917, and after that we had a really strong feminist movement, but it was crushed by Stalin, and after that there is no feminist theory in Russia,” she said. “But of course, because we are in touch with the East [and] women see that they can be good businesswomen and scientists, they do it, but they don’t recognize themselves like feminists because there is no theory.”

[Find the full article here.]

We’re very intrigued to see this conversation happening now, of all times (though secretly, we realize this context makes its impossible to comment on the women’s noticeably new looks.)

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The Show Must Go On for Pinchuk and Manifesta; Not So Much, Voina

Countdown to the Future Generation Art Prize

Only five days remain until the close of the Pinchuk Art Centre‘s biennial Future Generation Art Prize. While escalating tensions around Ukraine had us wondering if the show would indeed go on – after all, the Kyiv biennale, to be curated by springerin‘s Georg Schöllhammer and Hedwig Saxenhuber, has been bumped to 2015 – today the FGAP affirmed its intent to press on, by announcing the members of its Selection Committee, who will be tasked with narrowing down the applications before they reach the final jury. As part of the fun, each of the jury members proposed one person for the selection committee:

  • Raphael Chikukwa – Chief curator of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe) Proposed by Bisi Silva;
  • Sun Dongdong – independent curator (China) Proposed by Philip Tinari;
  • Björn Geldhof – Deputy Artistic Director of the PinchukArtCentre (Ukraine) Proposed by Eckhard Schneider;
  • Simon Castets – Director of Swiss Institute (USA) Proposed by Fransesco Bonami;
  • Giacinto di Pietrantonio – Director of the GAMeC (Italy) Proposed by Jan Fabre;
  • Taiyana Pimentel Paradoa – Director of Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros-La Tallera (Mexico) Proposed by Doris Salcedo;  
  • David Riff – independent artist, writer and curator (Germany) Proposed by Adam Szymczyk.

 Remember, applications are due April 30. To apply, click here.


Manifesta 10 Unveils its Public Program

Manifesta Public ProgramIn the meantime, Manifesta 10 has decided to press on as well, announcing the details for the Public Program, curated by Joanna Warsza. According to the release, the program will range from time-based works by Ragnar KjartanssonDeimantas Narkevičius and Slavs and Tatars, to events with thinkers, writers and curators like  Kathrin BeckerKatya DegotAaron Schuster and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. [Find the full list here.]


Last week, Petersburgers got their first taste of what’s to come, when artist Elena Kovylina (known for her willingness to take things to the very extreme, with performances that include testing her own endurance for vodka, pain and ballroom dancing, convincing everyone she had drowned, and kidnapping her assistant) reenacted a (slightly) gentler action, having volunteers stand on boxes outside the courtyard of the Winter Palace. The action is called Egalite.

A view of Elena Kovylina's Egalite, performed April 19, 2014, outside the Hermitage

A view of Elena Kovylina’s Egalite, performed April 19, 2014, outside the Hermitage

And Now a Word from our Sponsors: Voina defends the Crimean  Occupation

As real war (“voina,” in Russia), seems more and more present, we realized it’s been a while since we’ve heard from Voina. Once commanding international attention after their drawbridge highjinks, now the group is better known as Pussy Riot‘s male consorts. Today, we were reminded of their existence, when Artguide reported that the self-proclaimed leader (Voina, like real war, has many factions) Oleg Vorotnikov had penned a letter withdrawing from the Amsterdam-based festival OPENBORDER, claiming to take issue with the anti-Russian attitude of the organizers. While the festival’s rhetoric takes a stand against the occupation of Crimea, Vorotnikov writes that Voina feels differently: “We are delighted that Crimea has joined Russia, and we are happy for the Crimeans. I haven’t been this proud of my country in a long time.” [The full letter can be read here, in Russian.]

Voina pro Putin. We didn’t see that one coming.


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Pavilion Politics, Power-Players and a lot of Prizes

Yuri Albert, In My Work I've Hit a Crisis..., 1983

Yuri Albert, In My Work I’ve Hit a Crisis…, 1983

We promised this post would be on prizes, and there were certainly plenty given out this week: the Art Newspaper Russia‘s new award, the St Petersburg-based Kurokhin Prize, and of course, the National Center for Contemporary Art’s Innovation Prize, which was awarded last night, and the Moscow Museum of Multimedia Art’s Golden Camera, which will be announced later today.

First, however, we had a few updates around Grigory Revzin’s dismissal from his post as Commissioner of the Russian Pavilion for the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Two days ago, we wrote that the reasons were officially unknown, though we had an inkling it had something to do with Revzin’s work as a journalist, providing social commentary as a columnist for GQ (which, even in Russia, is still more Q+A than T+A.)  In a conversation with Interview Russia, Revzin – who was quickly replaced with Semyon Mikhailovsky, rector of St Petersburg’s Repin Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and one of the signees on the petition of cultural workers in support of Putin’s actions in the Krimea – states quite frankly that: “It’s not about the exhibition concept, it’s about personal loyalty. Mikhailovsky signed his name to a petition, and I signed mine to a column.” While Revzin insists he had no intent to crusade against Russia and only wanted to showcase the best of what the country can offer, architecture-wise, he riles against the idea that the Minister of Culture should serve as a Minister of Ideology, an idea hauntingly not far from realization (right now there’s a bill up for debate that would cancel government support – both funding and legal protection – for contemporary art that counters “Russian” values.)

The entire interview is available (in Russian) here.

Now on to the Prize Round-Up. (Get a fresh cup of coffee – this will be a long one.)

The Art Newspaper Russia astounds and confounds with its II Annual Award Ceremony

A scene from The Art Newspaper Award's "tribute" to Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova

A scene from The Art Newspaper Award’s “tribute” to Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova

Let’s start with the The Art Newspaper Russia awards, which were announced April 4. A newcomer in every sense, this was only the second year the prizes were given, as the franchise still struggles to fill the void left by ArtChronika, Black Square, and other Russian art magazines. The categories are pretty straight-forward, with the addition of one for Best Restoration, which we can’t help but applaud (especially when masterpieces like the Melnikov House and Narkomfin have met such obstacles securing funding.) This year the award went to the Alvar Aalto library in Vyborg. The state Tretyakov’s survey of Natalia Goncharova was named Exhibition of the Year; Olga Sviblova’s Museum of Multimedia Art Moscow was named Museum of the Year; and the Book of the Year went to Stella Art Foundation’s director of development, Nikolai Molok, for his history of Russian pavilions for the Venice Biennale (Topical. Very topical.)

The real Precious Moment of the evening, however, was the award for Personal Contribution, which went to Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova. As, understandably, the awardees were a no-show, the organizers of the event arranged a play instead, in which the Dasha character tries to distract the Roman figure from his dealings with Chelsea, then gives up and reads an Art Newspaper Russia. Roman, realizing the folly of his ways, then enlists 007 to round up all the great art works of the world in an effort to win Dasha back. All to remixed Amy Winehouse. You can watch it here on TV Dozhd. (Go to Part III. It starts around the 10 minute mark.)

Kuryokhin Prize offers a glimpse at the Russian Art World beyond Moscow

Ivan Sotnikov, Battle with Squirrel

From “Battle with Squirrel,” an exhibition of Ivan Sotnikov at Navicula Artis

Always the underdog in these things, the Kuryokhin Prize – named in honor of composer Sergey Kuryokhin – has kicked up its game this year, moving the ceremony into the Hermitage (soon to be the site of Manifesta.) The nominees tend to reflect the nuances in Petersburg’s scene, particularly the bend towards the theatrical, as evidenced by the main winner, Peter Aidu, a sound installation artist. Other awards went to Timya Radya (who hails from Ekaterinburg) and Group PROVMYZA (from Nizhny Novgorod), but the prize that got us the most excited was the award to Gleb Ershov of Navicula Artis, for his curatorial project, “Battle with Squirrel.” Navicula Artis is a small gallery within the Pushkinskaya-10 complex, but it’s served as the epicenter of the more esoteric elements in the city’s art scene for years. We’re very happy to see them getting some attention!

Yuri Albert and Katya Degot take the top prize at Innovation

A still from Sasha Pirogova's film BIBLIMEN (2013.)

A still from Sasha Pirogova’s film BIBLIMEN (2013.)

Last’s night’s ceremony saw XL Gallery’s Elena Selina clinch Best Curatorial Project for the two-part “Reconstruction” show, presented with the Garage and the Ekaterina Foundation. The Krasnodar-based ZIP Group won for Best Regional Project, Kaliningrad curator Dmitry Bulatov took home the prize in Theory, Criticism and Art History, and the emerging artist award went to Sasha Pirogova, for her video BIBLIMEN (2013.)  The top honor, however, went to Yuri Albert and Katya Degot, who won Best Work of Art for their collaboration “And What Did the Artist Intend to Say with This?,” a retrospective of Albert’s playfully frustrating repertoire. (This makes it quite a big year for Degot.)

The evening also included a nod to ArtChronika Foundation – now BREUS Foundation, but we’ll get to that – founder Shalva Breus, for his contributions to art. Also honored was Vlad Mamyshev-Monroe, a tribute which might seem quite daring, for Russia (though admittedly, the move pales when compared to, say, the exhibition on homosexuality in  Africa, planned for Dak’Art.) We appreciated Artguide’s Masha Kravtsova‘s observation on Facebook about how while Putin was name-checked repeatedly during the ceremony, no one actually said his name, instead resorting to complicated phrasing to indicate the one in power. Her readers were quick to draw the Voldemort parallel, so we didn’t have to.

Kandinsky Prize sees a change of Name, but not of Heart

Moscow's Udarnik Theatre, soon to be the site of the BREUS Foundation's museum

Moscow’s Udarnik Theatre, soon to be the site of the BREUS Foundation’s museum

Of course, all of the prizes mentioned above are still seen as secondary, behind the ArtChronika Foundation’s Kandinsky Prize, which is typically awarded in December. The closure of ArtChronika Magazine – seemingly the foundation’s namesake – had some scratching their heads as to how the prize might continue, but the foundation’s head, collector Shalva Breus, seemed undeterred in his mission, which includes converting the Udarnik Theatre into a private museum.

Today, Artguide announced that Breus has rebranded his foundation, which from this day forth shall be known as the BREUS Foundation. Additionally, Breus has kicked off the architectural competition to design his museum, which is now slated to open in 2016. Current architects in the running include the very international assortment of Arata Isozaki & Associates (Japan), Stephan Braunfels Architekten (Germany),  Designed by Erick van Egeraat (Netherlands), Emre Arolat Architects (Turkey), John McAslan + Partners (Great Britain), and Robbrecht en Daem architecten (Belgium). While we suppose the cosmopolitanism should be encouraging, and it will be wonderful to see some new life breathed into the Russian Constructivist building (which, in its Post-Soviet tenure has served as a car dealership, a really cheesy casino, and a middling sushi spot offering Biznez Launch with a view), we can’t help but wonder about Russian architects (particularly after MEL – located a hop, skip and a jump from Udarnik in our former home, the Red October Chocolate Factory – had such a strong showing in the NCCA tender.)

The finalists should be announced in June.


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