While we’re on the subject of fairs, this morning ArtBasel announced the line-up for its 44th edition, which will take place for the first time in the new Herzog & de Meuron-designed Messe Hall, whose breathtaking, gaping hole in the ceiling essentially turns the fair-going experience into one big James Turrell piece. Architecture aside, there is only so much room for surprise at the fair itself, which has served as the industry standard the last few decades (In other words, a gallery has only arrived once it’s earned its Basel exhibitor pass.) Most of the movement occurs in the specials sectors like Features and Statements, which were designed as entry points for younger galleries. This year the Main Section promises the return of Maureen Paley and the upgrade of Features features like Jocelyn Wolff and the wonderful kaufmann repetto, but there was one particularly conspicuous absence: in short, 304 galleries, and not a single Russian among them.
This shouldn’t be a shock following a year that saw the demise – excuse us, “nonprofit makeover” – of at least three of Moscow’s leading galleries and the well-publicized “flight of the rich” from Russia’s art market (though to be fair, the Motherland never saw the same kind of jaw-dropping figures Russians were crediting as dropping abroad. Even Roman Abramovich’s recent high profile acquisition of John Stewart’s collection of Kabakovs was not something brokered on Russian soil.) While having heavyweights like Guelman, Aidan and XL Gallery bow out of the market does make more space for younger galleries like Paperworks and GMG, the recent stars of the scene – Taus Makhacheva, Arseny Zhilyaev and Radya among them – all share a strong inclination towards conceptual projects. This may make for great biennale fodder, but it isn’t necessarily ideal for breaking into international market.
This isn’t exactly a recent obstacle; one need look only so far as the Russian Pavilion at Venice, which, under the direction of the Stella Art Foundation, will be chasing 2011’s esoteric exercises of Andrei Monastyrski with those of another conceptual icon, Vadim Zakharov. Even a renewed (and, might we add, highly justifiable) interest in these artists’ works does not translate to a sudden flood of their work onto the market, if only because there just isn’t that work to flood the market with.
Perhaps for some of these reasons, there has never been a particularly overwhelming Russian presence at the fair. (At least, not among the exhibitors – the collectors are another story…) XL Gallery – now XL Projects, in the wake of Winzavod’s non-profit makeover – blazed the trail by breaking into the ArtBasel franchise from 2007-2010, until the mantle was passed on to Regina, who made its ArtBasel debut in Miami in 2008. Since that time, Regina has more than doubled its roster, and opened a second space in London, making it the arguably the most cosmopolitan of the Russian galleries. (No surprise that it was Regina director Vladimir Ovcharenko who came up with the spritely Cosmoscow Fair?) Whereas XL boasted a strictly-Slav roster, Regina samples international artists Jonathan Meese, Erwin Wurm and Jorinde Voight, stable staples Sergey Bratkov, Semyon Faibisovich, and Oleg Kulik, and Young (Russian) Turks Zhilyaev, Olya Kroitor and Evgeny Antufiev.
This summer, however, it looks like even Regina will not be in ArtBasel. While it’s a shock for some, the gallery hardly seems to be suffering. Indeed, they will be returning to a hotly-coveted spot in Frieze New York this April. More than that, the gallery is aggressively pursuing an international program for its local artists, including an exchange with Almine Rech that saw both Bratkov and Faibisovich featured in solo exhibitions in Paris this winter. Meanwhile, Zhilyaev was just name-checked in Frieze’s round-up of the cerebral scene in Moscow, while Antufiev has an exhibition opening up at Collezione Maramotti on February 16, 2013. The question then isn’t what will Regina do without Basel, but will their absence even make that much of a difference for a gallery which has already built a reputation as “the Russian gallery”?
ArtBasel will run from June 13-16, 2013. For more information, check the website.