By: Anya Koltsova

Moscow’s contemporary art scene is evolving and growing every year. Still quite young, yet admirably accomplished and diverse, it presents itself in many possible manifestations: from fairly traditional mediums such as painting, to interactive multimedia art. Moscow galleries do not only seek to discover, nurture, and promote local artists, but also to introduce the public to the works of internationally established artists from all over the world. Such important objectives are amplified by diversified art education programs hosted at the galleries. These facilitate the profound international exchange of ideas. We have highlighted the top 10 venues, from large museums to smaller galleries, that you have to check out in Russia’s capital.

Garage Museum

Garage Museum, Installation View. Courtesy of Oma.

Garage Museum, Installation View. Courtesy of Oma.

In a nutshell: Two years ago, contemporary art center Garage, founded in 2008 by Dasha Zhukova, finally acquired museum status. Today, it may arguably be proclaimed the most influential contemporary art venue in the country. It has basically marked a turning point in the local perception of contemporary art. Providing the opportunity for creating new works and ideas, Garage reflects and defines contemporary art thinking in Russia and ties it to the international scene. It was the first to introduce the local public to such important names as James Turrell, Yayoi Kusama, and Louise Bourgeois, to name a few. In 2014, Garage became one of the venues hosting the longest lasting ongoing global art project, “Do it Moscow”, first conceived by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1993. The museum has recently moved to its permanent location in a former soviet restaurant, «Vremena Goda» (Seasons of the year”), executing an innovative and transformative preservation project.

Where: 9/32 Krymsky Val. Open daily 11 am-10 pm.

Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow (MAMM)

MAM Moscow, Installation View. Courtesy of Voxxter.

MAM Moscow, Installation View. Courtesy of Voxxter.

In a nutshell: Previously known as the Moscow House of Photography, now MAMM is one of the most vibrant art venues in the Russian capital. Ever since 1996, it has been directed by its founder Olga Sviblova, who has over 500 exhibits of contemporary art and photography under her belt, along with curating the most important collections of Russian photography. MAMM is primarily famous for hosting two influential festivals: Photobiennale on even years, and Fashion and Style in Photography on the odd ones. The museum occupies a seven-story white cube where traditional works of art co-exists with innovative multimedia and video installations. One of MAMM’s objectives is to be open to fresh ideas and forms of visual expression in the fields of contemporary photography and new media art.

Where: Ostozhenka st., 16. Open 12 pm-9pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA)

Joseph Boyes Installation View. Courtesy of MMOMA

Joseph Boyes Installation View. Courtesy of MMOMA

In a nutshell: MMOMA is the first contemporary art museum in modern Russia and one of the most vital participants in the country’s contemporary culture. The museum’s collection mainly narrates the history of Russian twentieth-century avant-gardes through the works of Malevich, Chagall, Goncharova, Tatlin and Kandinsky, just to name a few, with a rich addition of works by European and American artists. MMOMA’s exhibition program, however, is focused on studying and displaying the visual culture of the twenty-first century, from debut shows of contemporary artists to international festivals and retrospectives.

Where: the museum is housed within 4 different venues: Petrovka street 25; Ermolaevka Lane, 17; Tverskoy boulevard, 9; Gogolevsky boulevard, 10. All of the above are open 12 pm-8 pm, Monday-Sunday, and 1pm-9pm on Thursday. The museum is closed every third Monday of the month.

Center MARS

In a nutshell:

Mars was established in 1988 in Soviet Moscow as the oldest and first non-governmental center for contemporary art. It was known for actively promoting Russian art of the late twentieth century, and for its participation in Tokyo ArtExpo in 1992. Today the venue,  which resembles a labyrinth rather than a traditional white cube, focuses on interactive digital art projects. It invites its viewers to experience an interactive multimedia space with all their senses. Here you will encounter works by local media artists such as TUNDRA, ::vtol::, kbln, Pixelord, noobusdeer, and many others.

Where: Pushkarev street, 10. Open 12pm-10pm daily. Closed Monday.

LABORATORIA Art & Science Space

In a nutshell: Laboratoria is the first and, so far, the only interdisciplinary space in Russia where artists and scientists investigate intersections within their practices under the guidance of gallerist and curator Daria Parkhomenkno. Here, artists interested in present-day scientific disputes aim to discover new ideas about their surroundings and to translate them into art. These almost magical experiments are an unavoidable interaction between art and science in today’s world.

Where: 3 Obukha per. Open Thursday-Sunday 2pm-8pm.

GLAZ Gallery

GLAZ Gallery, Installation View. Courtesy of GLAZ

GLAZ Gallery, Installation View. Courtesy of GLAZ

In a nutshell: Glaz is one of the biggest local galleries specializing in photography. Along with the majority of the leading Moscow galleries, Glaz is located at the Winzavod art center. The location makes it easy for visitors to cruise around in their art pilgrimage. The gallery’s collection consists of contemporary conceptual works as well as soviet classics, and counts over 4000 pieces. Along with the works of established artists, Glaz displays young and promising names, helping them to find their audience and collectors.

Where: Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art, 4th Syromyatnicheskiy Lane, 1, Bld. 6. Open Tuesday-Sunday 12pm-8pm.

Gallery Iragui

In a nutshell: The founder of the gallery, Irina Iragui, started her career in Paris as an independent art project manager on various sites, later opening her own venue in the Marais quarter. The Moscow branch of the gallery opened in 2008 and is now known for promoting French artists, mostly born in the ’70s, within the Russian audience, as well as for helping the local artistic community to integrate itself into the international contemporary art world.

Where: Moscow, Malaya Polyanka st., 7/5. Open Tuesday-Saturday 2pm-7pm.

Triangle Gallery

In a nutshell: Triangle is the youngest gallery on our list, yet it is already acutely representative of the local art dynamics. Before opening a space in Moscow in February 2015, gallerist Nadezhda Stepanova worked in the gallery business in Turin for over seven years, and she still lives between Moscow and Italy. The gallery is managed with the help of Elvira Tarnogradksaya, an art consultant, and Alisa Bogdanayte, a curator at Vladivostok contemporary art center ZARYA. Their diverse program includes displays of both Russian and foreign contemporary artists, such as artistic community VGLAZ (do not confuse with the above GLAZ gallery) and video artists such as Sasha Pirogova and Dmitry Bulyigin.

Where: Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art, 4th Syromyatnicheskiy Lane, 1, Bld. 6. Open Tuesday-Sunday 1pm-7:30 pm, or by appointment.

Ruarts

In a nutshell: One of the biggest local galleries. Its sleek space designed by architects Anton Nadtochia and Vera Butko is located in the city’s museum district. It is one of the leading contemporary galleries representing art today, from painting and photography to sculpture and new media installations. Ruarts has built a reputation for supporting both beginning and already established Russian artists. It has also brought to Russia’s capital names such as Ervin Olaf, Nabuko Watabiki, and Herve Ic, among others. Most of the shows at Ruarts are curatorial collaborations between local and foreign curators.

Where: 1 Zachatievskiy st., 10. Open 12pm-8 pm Tuesday-Saturday.

MSK Eastside Gallery

MSK Eastside Gallery, Installation View. Courtesy of MSK Eastside.

MSK Eastside Gallery, Installation View. Courtesy of MSK Eastside.

In a nutshell:

Earlier this year, the gallery has opened its new space in the city center, after moving from its first location in the art district near metro Baumanskaya. During the last few years, gallerist Wildrik Batjes (France), together with curators Jabagh Kaghado and Zak Kaghado (USA), has discovered and supported a number of talented Moscow-based artists with an alternative artistic vision. The majority of them have made their way into fine arts from a graffiti movement. Therefore, the gallery owns a large collection of post-graffiti art, photography, paintings and installations. In addition to promoting young Russian artists, MSK Eastside also curates shows of internationally renowned artists, and works closely with auction houses like Phillips NYC, Christie’s Paris and ArtCurial Paris.

Where: Leontyevskiy per., 5. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11am-7pm.

I was a very lucky student to have met Alessandro Piangiamore about a year ago during my curating course. Along with everyone in the class, I couldn’t help immediately falling in love with the magical air that his works diffuse. My admiration was soon reinforced by the profoundly solid and intangibly poetic ideas behind Piangiamore’s oeuvre. Born in Sicily, the artist is marked by a tremendous sensibility to nature and its cycles that find realization in his work.

  1. When and how did you realize you wanted to make art?

I grew up in Enna, a small town in the middle of Sicily. I didn’t have an opportunity to see art back then, except for a few art magazine illustrations available in the public library. Due to this shortage, I have discovered in myself a great attraction for images and for their visionary power, a sort of image bulimia. I also remember when I was a child my grandmother had an oil painting in the dining room. It was a mountain landscape with a river and a mill and there was a small human figure painted in red and white. I was very attracted to this painting and I used to climb on the sofa to look at it closely.

At the age of twenty, I moved to Rome and there I discovered a lot of classical and contemporary art and I realized that maybe being an artist was the most natural and pleasant thing to do. I was so naive at that time….

  1. Has the romantic allure of being an artist vanished?

Saying naive I was not referring to a romantic allure but to a sense of ruthlessness towards myself.

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  1. Also, you say that you were much influenced by the power of imagery. However, most of your works are not pictorial. How did that transformation come about?

I don’t think that my work has transformed in a pictorial way. I’m still considering it as a disposal in which different possibilities are coexisting. Above all it’s sculpture, that’s due to a personal attitude to the matter.

Your question is obviously referring to works from the series La Cera di Roma. It’s a sculptural body of works with a formal aspect that at first sight is possible to mistake for a painting.

For me, it is a work based on a substance with its own origin and its original semantic and symbolic meaning. Of course this aspect, together with the formal component are contributing to the creation of an image. An artwork is always an image, whether it is two-dimensional, three-dimensional or mental.

  1. What is conceptual art for you?

It is just one of a multiplicity of re-definitions of what art could be, as well as an important step towards the implementation of contemporary approaches.

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  1. I see. Are there any particular artists or ideas that have fundamentally influenced your approach to art?

I certainly looked back at the protagonists of the generations that are closest to me, especially Italians. I can also recognize a strong empathy for many of the images produced by the Arte Povera movement.

My thinking has been deeply marked by Alighiero Boetti‘s and Bruce Nauman‘s ideas and practices, mostly their attitude to the idea of “everything”.

I remember this beautiful Bruce Nauman’s exhibition at Castello di Rivoli A Rose Has No Teeth, in 2007. It has changed my idea of making as well as the Tutto works by Boetti.

  1. I can absolutely relate to your admiration for both artists. But could you please elaborate on the idea of “everything”?

It’s an idea that finds its highest expression in Boetti’s tapestries entitled Everything. There is a marvelous affinity between the multitude of represented forms: they look as if they give birth to each other in a contiguous manner. I think the most beautiful element of these works is their realization, entirely assigned to the embroiderers. Boetti only asked them not to repeat the same form or pattern. Similarly, Nauman appropriates the time that he spent in his studio thinking, turning it into art; the attempt of making a work inside a work, such as in Manipulating the T – Bar, or Mapping the studio.

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  1. And how has Nauman’s work affected you, and in what way has it changed your idea of making?

In 2007, after visiting A Rose Has No Teeth – a Nauman’s exhibition at Castello di Rivoli – I felt a strong sense of familiarity with his work.  I remember a small, but a very powerful work A Cast of the Space Under My Chair, a concrete sculpture literally reproducing what the title describes. It was like hearing an unknown language and understanding it. A year before, in 2006, I made a work titled The Rainbow’s Gravity, a sculpture that is an upside down plaster mold of a puddle of rainwater. I do not want to compare the two works; there is a distance of 30 years between them. But I never saw Nauman’s work before this occasion and the similarity made me exalted. Something similar happened with a work titled All That The Wind Blows that I started in 2008 and that is still in progress. It consists of attempts to collect all the winds blowing in the world through small soil-made sculptures, abandoned for a period of time. Each of these periods are specific to a certain wind. When I started to give shape to this work, I had never heard of Alighiero Boetti’s book Classifying a Thousand Longest Rivers in the World (1977), but finding out about it made me so happy.

  1. I love your series All That the Wind Blows, which is indeed defined by a very beautiful and delicate thought behind it. And how would you define the red thread in your oeuvre? What ideas or aesthetics do all your works have in common?

In my work, I often try to crystallize everything ephemeral by flitting through a practical approach to the matter, which allows me to cleave to the reality. My research aims not to create single objects but to make their inner shapes and images emerge. Rather than being static or frontal, their features are accomplished through evocations and semantic and visual shifts.

In many of my works, there is a part in which I lose control, or rather do not decide the final result. This happens with the work of the series Tutto il Vento Che C’è (All That the Wind Blows- AK), as well as in a similar manner with the sculptures from the series La Cera di Roma, realized by melting residual candles collected from churches and people. The final result is a hybrid between sculpture and painting with a random color output. The same happens with the works from the series Primavera Piangiamore. These are sculptures in solid crystal within which fragrances are enclosed, or the inclusion of fragrances that add a color element but can no longer smell. The shapes have been decided by the crystal workers, I asked the crystal workers to decide on the shape of the artworks, using the new fragrances contained in the forms as inspiration. I did not intend to make designs, which can be a risk if you are using perfumes, and that is the reason why I decided to delegate the shape to the workers. I only want to make something which is generally related to an invisible realm, visible.

untitled-volcano-1

  1. In your works you widely use natural materials; soil, seashells, coral. Even visually they echo natural phenomena, for instance La Cera di Roma series have always reminded me of satellite photography. Also, your work process when “you lose control of the final result” much resembles the way objects emerge in nature. Where does this instinctively natural aesthetic derive from and does it have anything to do with your upbringing?

Of course, there are influences related to my personal education, or to a sort of familiarity with certain things. For example my mother has a great passion for coral; I grew up spending a lot of time in the countryside and I love to get lost in the sea.

Many natural elements appear in my work spontaneously, although recreating the nature has never been the goal of my practice. For instance, it’s very intriguing how volcanoes, which are part of my native landscape, came into my work. A few years ago, while I was rummaging through my archive of mountain landscapes, I found a postcard of a smoking volcano. There was also a piece of white coral from another work on my table. So I put the postcard on it: the coral was looking like the natural extension of the smoking eruption.

There’s also a folkloric aspect in my work. I have a great fascination for nature as something surprising and uncontainable. Beyond all doubt we can affirm that the worst natural phenomena are permeated with a sort of inexplicable harmony that bring about contemplation.

  1. And what about contemporary Italian culture? Does your work reflect or echo it in any way – are there any common areas or intersections? 

Obliviously I think that ideas are in the air and in general there are point of intersections between arts. We can call this “sensibility of the time” or something like that. But to be more specific, it’s quite hard to reply to your question. I’m just having the sensation that there will soon be a great return to the essence of things.

  1. In 2014 you had a solo show at Palais de Tokyo, Pierre Bergè- Yves Saint Laurent foundation. Besides his genius, Yves Saint Laurent is also famous for establishing a continuous dialogue between fashion and art, thus lower and high culture. What is your take on mergence of higher and lower culture, utilitarian and sublime?

Where there is curiosity, different levels of expression meet each, which in itself is always a fruitful thing. And this is the place where higher and lower cultures meet also giving birth to new cultures.

Two years ago the world’s first Street Art museum appeared within the structure of an active Soviet laminated plastics factory in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The reality is that impotent and unprofitable leftovers of the Industrial Soviet past are torn down almost all the time, surrendering to the giant capitalist commercial centers of today. Industrial land repurposed for commercial motives raises unemployment by approximately one percent, which in turn incubates crime growth by 7 percent, all while a chosen few make a fortune. A similar fate awaited SLOPLAST, which was the biggest factory within its sector. The wheels started turning a couple years ago, when after a street art party at the plant, Mikhail Astakhov, one of the museum’s curators, received a text from the factory’s management to negotiate the terms of the future museum.

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Giving the plant an alternative future was seen as a substantial contribution to the local community, which would in turn bring about positive social change. The Russian youth are conscious and hypersensitive to the injustice of the ongoing social order, and their reactions to it take on the form of street art. The creation of the Street Art Museum has not only saved a drastic number of jobs, but has also contributed the operators’ cultural and social involvement by engaging them with the museum’s activity.

World's First Street Art Museum - St. Petersburg

Soon, 50,000 square meters of the factory’s walls will be covered entirely in murals. Such a vast space offers unlimited possibilities to artists’ expression. Museum walls are already hosting works by artists Ecsif, Pasha 183, Timofey Radya, Kirill Kto, Pasha Wais and many others. In addition, the museum’s 11 hectare outside area will be a platform for music festivals, performances, shows and other events. Thus the museum’s activity is not limited to only a pictorial aspect, but grasps every bit of the local contemporary culture.

Today street art’s crisis lies in its forceful withdrawal from its natural context. Paradoxically, “street art” is also showcased through gallery displays, where it can travel to museums and private collections. This tendency is an indicator of a rapidly rising interest in street art worldwide (ironically, very first article on Art Versed was on street art as well), but it may also lead to street art’s decline. Such enthusiasm appears to be damaging to the development of certain artists. The increase of demand defeats the purpose of street art by shifting its ideological and aesthetic content towards consumerism and away from opposing it.

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While serving as the skin of a city, street art also serves as an indicator of its inner state; it reflects what we are as a society, thus it shall never be reshaped by demand and investments. Failing this, street art risks being transformed to a bias information source, like a federal news channel. Instead, it can be used as a 3D-dolby-cinema, which, according to Astahov, catalyzes concern and interest in art within the society. With its industrial setting, Saint Petersburg street art museum is a concentration of urban culture that gives birth to protesting art forms that are extremely important today to Russian society.

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