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.

Posted by: Polina Dubik 

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