All For Nothing

Following its very public condemnation of anti – patriotic art (case in point – Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Oscar – nominated film), the Russian Ministry of Culture has decided to put its money where its mouth is. This week, it has announced its long-standing project for building Centers for Innovative Culture, created to promote contemporary forms of art and culture in Russian regions, inefficient and unnecessary.

Architect Boris Bernaskoni's project for the  Innovative Culture Center in Pervouralsk.

Architect Boris Bernaskoni’s project for the Innovative Culture Center in Pervouralsk.

According to Izvestia, a Ministry committee has decided that the centers in Kaluga, Vladivostok and Pervouralsk will be re – branded as Regional Culture Centers and will switch their focus to ‘spiritual and patriotic enlightenment’ (which includes educational programs developed with the Russian Orthodox Church). The “innovative” project, initially created by Vladislav Surkov in 2012 as a 21st century analogue to the USSR’s Palaces of Culture, was envisioned as an educational initiative that would allow regional audiences to access the “most contemporary technologies in sculpture, painting and digital art.” The 1.25-billion ruble (roughly $18.9M) project was developed in close collaboration with Moscow’s Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design.

Two years later (and nearly half-way into the project’s budget), the official position towards culture has changed so radically that it makes Surkov look progressive.

Film director Nikolai Burlyaev, a self-proclaimed “patriot” with strong homophobic views who is developing the new Regional Centers, claims that “there is no such thing” as innovative culture: “the previous concept for these centers was based on the idea of creating a new type of citizen, an agent of change, someone capable of political reform. Well, as we all know, that’s how Maidan started, and that’s what I told the Minister (Vladimir Medinsky)”. Ironically, Surkov himself was reported to be in Minsk with Vladimir Putin participating in the negotiation with Petro O. Proshenko, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande. that is slated to decide the fate of post – Maidan Ukraine.

Last Tuesday, in another move that left many puzzled, the Ministry of Culture announced the dismissal of Irina Lebedeva from the position of director of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, which she headed since 2009. Lebedeva will be replaced Zelphira Tregulova, who previously worked at the Museums of the Moscow Kremlin and ROSIZO exposition center. Apparently, Lebedeva, a prominent scholar of Russian avant – garde art, was deemed “managerially ineffective” in dealing with issues of “matters of organization, construction work and restoration”. Some sources link her departure to budgeting issues connected to the construction of a new building for the Tretyakov, planned to open in 2018-2020.

Speaking of budgets: Vladimir Ovcharenko, Regina gallerist and Vladey auctioneer, has masterminded an auction format fit for Russia’s struggling economy. On February 17th, Ovcharenko will hold the first Vladey All For 100 auction with starting prices for all lots fixed at 100 Euro. Apparently, these days 100 Euros can get you a small canvas by Valery Chtak, Misha Most and Alexey Kallima, a wall piece by Irina Korina or even a small drawing by Georgiy Guryanov. According to The New York Times’report on the London auction week, however, Russians still have no problem dropping several million on a Malevich. The avant-garde artist’s self – portrait on paper was sold for £5.7 million at Sotheby’s to a dealer rumored to be buying on behalf of Roman Abramovich. That being said, the seller was also Russian, so who knows what all this means in the grand economic scheme of things.

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Leviathan Triumphs in LA, Vishneva Takes the Stage in NY

2015 is off to a great start for Russian cinema (if not for Russia itself): Andrei Zvyagintsev took home a Golden Globe for “Leviathan” in the Best Foreign Language Film category the other night in Los Angeles. Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan”, a tragic tale of a small – town mechanic (played by Alexey Serebryakov) fighting against local authorities that are attempting to demolish his family home on the coast of the Barents Sea, has received raving reviews from critics in Russia and abroad. Shaun Walker’s profile of Zvyagintsev in The Guardian gives a good overview of the film, and its implications in the current political climate.

Zvyagintsev's Leviathan

Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan

The Golden Globe is only one of the many prestigious awards the film has received this season: it won the Best Screenplay in Cannes (where it was also nominated for a Palm d’Or), ARRI / OSRAM Award as Best International Film at the Munich Film Festival and Critics Award in Sao Paulo.

The biggest prize, however, is likely yet to come: the film is in the Academy Awards short list in the Best Foreign Film category. Both critically and statistically, Leviathan’s Oscar chances are strong: the film industry’s most prestigious award has gone to the Golden Globe Foreign Film winner four years in a row. Leviathan is already showing in theatres internationally and has notoriously leaked online over the weekend (apparently, via one of the Academy members). Meanwhile, Russian audiences will only see the film on the big screen come February 5th. Russians are in for a special treat: following Putin’s ban on Russian ‘mat’ in works of art , the Russian – language version of the film will contain no obscene language, with the uncensored version going straight to DVD. There is also talk of

For those based in NYC, Leviathan (playing at Film Forum and Lincoln Center) is not the only must-see spectacle hailing from Russian this month. Make sure to make it to BAM, where St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Ballet will hold a two-week residency starting today. Don’t miss Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa’s classic version of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” or Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” with Russia’s most famous prima Diana Vishneva dancing on the 17th .

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Holy Politics, Unholy Economics

With the ruble hitting record-breaking lows, it has been a challenging December in Moscow, but the mood is one of “we have seen this before and know how to live through it.” Holiday shopping has been extreme as Russians are trying to invest their shaky rubles in something tangible – washing machines, furs, and diamonds, fearing that the currency will take another hit like it did last Tuesday, when it plummeted to 80 rubles to the dollar, creating panic both in the markets and in the supermarkets. As the year draws to a close, Russians are dreading the three d’s – denomination, devaluation and default – which have returned to everyday lexicon for the first time since the 1998 crisis.

Pavel Pepperstein, Holy Politics, 2013

In the context of a weakening economy, the government has been actively discussing patriotism, or lack thereof. On January 15th, the Russian court will issue a ruling in the case of Alexey Navalny, one of Kremlin’s most prominent critics, who has been under house arrest since February. Prosecutors have asked for 10 years of jail time for Navalny in the so-called “Yves Rocher” case, which is widely considered to be politically motivated. In anticipation of a positive verdict, supporters of anti-corruption activist are organizing a march in Moscow on the day of the court ruling. The first Facebook page for the “unsanctioned rally” has been blocked by the social network over the weekend when Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media watchdog, requested that it be taken down, but a second one, started on Sunday, has already amassed more than 30,000 followers who promised to join the rally on January 15th. The deletion of the original page, an unfortunate step on behalf of Facebook, was only to be expected from Roskomnadzor. Political opposition is increasingly considered “unpatriotic” in Russia – as the country was reminded during Putin’s annual press conference on December 18.

Other Russian officials seem to also be actively defining what is considered “patriotic”. Recently, Russia’s minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky, an outspoken critic of “heaps of bricks disguising themselves as contemporary art”, had his say on patriotism in contemporary Russian cinema. At a book signing in St. Petersburg, he noted that the Ministry will stop providing funding for “Russia-smearing” films that criticize the existing government, claiming it to be “state masochism”. Meanwhile, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan”, a drama about corruption and resistance to authorities set in a small Russian town on the Arctic sea, is now in the short-list for an Oscar. Around 40% of the budget for Zvyagintsev’s highly critical masterpiece came from the Russian government. Considering this is the Oscar first nomination of a Russian film in 8 years, it seems that a little “masochism” doesn’t hurt sometimes.

In the context of increasingly limited government funding for contemporary art, private patronage plays an evermore important role. Art patron Shalva Breus’ Kandinsky Prize winners have been announced in the 8th annual ceremony on December 11th. Pavel Pepperstein’s “Holy Politics” became the winner in the “Project of the Year” category, bringing the artist a prize of 40,000 Euro. Albert Soldatov was named “Young artist of the Year” and awarded 10,000 Euro for his “Balthus” video, beating Timofey Radya and Elena Rykova in the category. Given the volatile foreign exchange rates, we’re hoping that the cash prize did actually come in euros.

Moscow’s privately funded Garage has also played an important role in the arts where the government has left an under-funded void. This month, the museum has opened Russia’s first contemporary art library. The library currently holds around 15,000 volumes, including journals, monographs, exhibition catalogues, magazines and more, plus free access to all the articles on JStor. It will also hold the museum’s archive of Russian contemporary art, which consists of documents, texts, audio-, video- and photo- material connected to art in Russia from the 1960s to the present. The library is free of charge and open to the public, while the archive will require advanced notice. Amidst bleak projections for the government budget in 2015, these are the kinds of acts of patriotism we can get behind.

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Lost, Found, Sold

Remember the controversy surrounding Sergey  Bugaev (aka Afrika) and his collection of “lost” paintings by members of Leningrad’s New Artitsts? Well, it came to a disheartening semi-conclusion this week when 24 works from Bugaev’s collection were offered at Moscow’s Vladey auction.

Sergey Bugaev and Timur Novikov in front of Novikov’s “Portrait of Afrika” back in the day

Here’s a brief refresher: Bugaev, once a prominent member of Leningrad’s avant-garde scene and it’s ambassador to the word at large had somehow gained possession of a number of works by artists such as Georgy Gurianov, Viktor Tsoy, Inal Savchenkov, Timur Novikov and others in the late 1980s. At the time, they were lent to a traveling exhibition and went missing somewhere on the way back home to Leningrad. Some 25+ years later, to the artists’ surprise, the works surfaced in an exhibition curated by Bugaev, where they were presented as pieces from his collection. The artists went to court where Bugaev’s ownership of the works was found legal. Last Monday, two dozen works were auctioned off at a sale that brought in 838, 000 Euro in total earnings. Among the lots was Timur Novikov’s iconic portrait of a young Nike – clad Bugaev, a painting probably made at a time when fellow artists were not expecting Afrika to offer them to buy their own art back from him (as was the case with Georgy Gurianov back in 2013). Another work by Novikov, Leningrad, was picked up by prominent Russian collector Shalva Breus for 95,000 Euro, setting a record for the auction and insuring that Bugaev makes a nice profit off the evening’s sales. Later, in an interview with Afisha Vozduh, Bugaev admitted that the 24 pieces was a “microscopic part” of his collection, basically confirming a fact no one doubted. “Bugaev has not one, not two, not even ten of my works, but many, many more” – says artist Inal Savchenkov, who saw two of his pieces offered at Vladey. “But I feel great. I don’t expect anything good coming my way from Seryozha Bugaev – never have, never will”.

Georgy Gurianov's Dive, which sold at Sotheby's Contemporary East auction

Georgy Gurianov’s Dive, which sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary East auction

Moscow’s Vladey was scheduled to coincide with London’s Russian auctions, held by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and MacDougall’s. With the ruble and oil prices plummeting and the West’s sanctions firmly in place, there was little optimism in the salerooms. Sotheby’s, which has shown generally disappointing results this season, sold only 12 of its 32 lots – amongst them Georgy Gurianov’s Dive, which went for 122,500 GBP. Christie’s Important Russian Art sale did better, earning a total of $31,597,848 on the 240 sold lots. Valentin Serov’s Portrait of Maria Zetlin, which went for $14,511,339 at Christie’s, was the biggest sale of the week, setting a record for the artist and for a Russian artwork at auction. A full roundup of Christie’s and Sotheby’s results can be found here and here. The New York Times reports that the Russian sales are half of what they were back in pre-crisis 2007, when they brought in nearly 100 million GBP. Judging by the alarming forecasts for the Russian economy, things may get even shakier soon. No doubt Bugaev knows when to make an exit.

Speaking of London – if you’re in town, make sure to check out Saatchi’s new show, Post Pop: East Meets West, which traces Pop Art’s legacy in the East. The exhibition finally makes an effort to show art from the former  Soviet Union, China and Taiwan alongside the Basquiats, Shermans, Princes and McCarthys of the West. Andrei Erofeev, one of the three curators responsible for the show, brought in a diverse group of Russian Pop and Sots-artists, ranging from Grisha Bruskin and Leonid Sokov to Irina Korina to Oleg Kulik. Not in London? No worries – apparently, Saatchi is looking to tour the show in the US, China and Russia.

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The writing on the wall

Russian artist Petr Pavlensky staged a Van Gogh – esque act of self – mutilation last week, cutting off his earlobe with a butcher’s knife while sitting on the walls of the Serbsky psychiatric centre in Moscow. The artist’s action, called “Otdelenie” (a word that means both “separation” or “ward” in Russian), is targeted against the practice of ‘punitive psychiatry’ – psychiatric treatment as a form of persecution in politically motivated cases.

Petr Pavlensky’s “Otdelenie”

The Serbsky psychiatric center is notorious for its history of ‘treating’ dissidents and political prisoners throughout the Soviet era. Lately, the Center has been re-establishing its chilling reputation: earlier this year, doctors from the Serbsky institute proclaimed Mikhail Kosenko, one of the anti – Putin protesters arrested at a political rally in May, 2012, insane, leading to a sentence of indefinite psychiatric treatment for the 38-year old.

Pavlensky himself had to undergo numerous psychiatric evaluations this year after a series of performances that included nailing his scrotum to the Red Square pavement and rolling around naked in barbed wire. Nadya Tolokno of Pussy Riot, a big supporter of Pavlensky’s work, later wrote that the artist’s strategies and somber aesthetics are more in line with the current political situation in Russia than the outdated multi-colored optimism of Pussy Riot.

Pavlensky, who performed “Otdelenie” naked on what was an unusually cold October day, was removed from the facade of the building two hours into the performance by armed policemen and taken to a hospital (not the Serbsky center). Neither the knife nor the earlobe were returned.

In other news -The Breus Foundation has officially announced the names of this year’s nominees for the Kandinsky Prize, which provides the winning artist with a very substantial award of 40,000 Euro for “Project of the year”. This year, Baibakov Art Projects alumna Irina Korina’s Refrain, Pavel Pepperstein’s Holy Politics and Lilia Li-Mi-Yan’s Masters/Servants are competing in that category. Another Baibakov Art Projects favorite, Timofey Radya, is among the nominees for the Young Artist Prize with “All I Know About Street Art”, an artistic manifesto written on the wall of a St. Petersburg factory in 2013.

Timofey Radya’s “All I Know About Street Art” (2013).

This month Radya, along with the talented Nikolai Alekseev, Alexandra Sukhareva, Aslan Gaisumov, Anastasia Kuzmina, Ivan Gorshkov and Evgeny Granilshchikov has also been chosen as the awardee of Garage’s support program for young Russian artists. All awardees will receive a monthly grant of 20,000 rubles throughout the year. With the ruble recently hitting historic lows, that amounts to about $470 per month.

Meanwhile, in Kiev, 23-year old Aslan Gaisumov has his eyes on a bigger award: he is the sole Russian nominee for PinchukArtCenter’s Future Generation Art Prize. The names of nominees were announced several days before Ukraine held a historic parliamentary election that resulted in a triumph of pro-Western parties, securing a European turn in the countries future. Politics are hard to avoid in Kiev these days, but for the Pinchuk prize, with its very international jury panel and selection committee, art is the first priority.  21 artists from all over the world, including Jon Rofman (Canada), Carlos Motta (Colombia), Zhanna Kadyrova (Ukraine), GCC (Arabian Gulf Region), He Xiangyu (China) are competing for the $100,000 prize, which will be awarded for the third time in early December of this year.


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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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