In: Travel

Sadegh Souri

Four years ago, award-winning artist Aida Muluneh spearheaded efforts to create East Africa’s first international photography festival, Addis Foto Fest. Of course, she couldn’t have done it without her team at Desta for Africa Creative Consulting (DFA), a Private Limited Company founded by Aida Muluneh herself. Desta works to spread education through art, and so a festival like Addis Foto Fest was an almost obvious step for their efforts.

Aida Muluneh by Emeka Ogboh. Source:

Aida Muluneh was born in Ethiopia but has spent most of her life in other countries. However, she had always fantasized about returning to her home land, and in 2007 she got the opportunity to do so while working on a documentary. She saw the allurement of Ethiopia and decided to leave her life in Canada to stay in Addis Ababa, where she worked as an advocate for the culture and beauty of her native country. It was this idea that became the fundamental philosophy and goal behind Desta, which is an acronym for “Developing and Educating Society Through Art.”

Yonas Tadesse, Ethiopia. Addis Foto Fest 2016. Photo credit: Okay Africa.

Addis Foto Fest was established only a few years after Desta was created, and was the result of Muluneh’s  attendance to the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie in Bamanko, where she was to receive the European Union Prize. There she became aware of a strong global misrepresentation and belittling of Africa, both in photography and in the film. Muluneh stated that “This world is not perfect and neither are we, but why is it always our imperfections that are in the lead as opposed to the balanced story of who we are?”. Addis Foto Fest was thus created to rethink what defines Africa, and to show images that truly represent all aspects of the different African cultures.

Sarah Waiswa, Uganda. Addis Foto Fest 2016. Photo credit: Okay Africa.

This festival is all about communicating with artists and educating not only those who are in involved with the festival but the whole world in this progression towards re-branding the African continent. In a recent article in Vogue Italia —a sponsor of the festival—, Muluneh described Addis Foto Fest as “an educational tool; it is a form of cultural exchange that fosters mutual understanding and simultaneously furthers the bigger conversation—that the creative sector is part and parcel to development”.

Addis Foto Fest has been a huge success since its beginnings and is now recognized as one of the leading photography festivals in the whole of Africa. The show is set up every two years —in 2016 it was held between the 15th and the 20th of December. There were amazing events taking place every day, including portfolio reviews by international professionals, lectures, and dance performances. A total of 126 artists from more than 40 countries around the world exhibited their work, shaping an outstanding display where many different contemporary approaches to photography were represented.

Between the 22 and 26 of February, Madrid is the place to be for those who love contemporary art. There are at least five different art fairs taking place simultaneously, plus many other art-related events that make this one of the most exciting weeks of the year. The only downside of it is that it is virtually impossible to see everything, and so this year we have chosen to visit Art Madrid, the second biggest art fair in the Spanish capital.

In its 12th edition, Art Madrid maintains its multidisciplinary character and puts the emphasis on the quality of the artworks exhibited, as well as on the international appeal of the 43 galleries selected. These are mainly Spanish, but there is also a good number of them that come from all over the world, including Portugal, China, Latvia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Italy or Lebano.

This year the focus is also on the individual work of emerging and mid-career Spanish and  Latin American artists. Next to the General Program, the ONE PROJECT Program -curated by Carlos Delgado Mayordomo- presents eight solo-show projects that reflect on the concepts of territory, displacement and identity.

Solimán López, ‘File_Genesis’. Centre de Cultura Contemporánea del Carmen.

In addition to this, the relationship between art and technology shapes the fair’s Parallel Program of activities, which includes talks, round tables, workshops and other actions. We attended the last event of the series, the presentation of “FILE_GENESIS”, a multimedia project by artist and founder of Harddiskmuseum Solimán López that revolves around the meaning of the image in the digital era, showing how necessary it is to generate a conversation about the ways in which technology affects the art world.

However, painting and sculpture, from the mid-twentieth century to the present, still predominated at Art Madrid this year. Here are some of the highlights from this edition.

Espacio Olvera (Sevilla)

Mariajosé Gallardo, ‘Raro’ (detail), 2016.

The booth of this Sevillian gallery was one of the first to catch my attention. Selected as a ONE PROJECT, Espacio Olvera showed the work of Mariajosé Gallardo, a fascinating combination of symbolism and a very realistic depiction of plants and animals, painted over golden surfaces that give shape to very powerful artworks. It’s a pity the small space of the booth did not provide enough room for visitors to really appreciate the works.

Galería BAT Alberto Cornejo (Madrid)

Rubén Martín de Lucas, ‘Génesis 1.28. Acciones en el Paisaje’, video installation, 2017.

Galería BAT presented a really interesting mix of artists working in different media, including bright paintings on an unusual support like methacrylate by Pablo Lambertos. I was particularly drawn to José Ramón Lozano’s oversized celebrity portraits and Byeonghee Bae’s curious series of wooden sculptures entitled Citizens above of building. A few works from the series El Jardín de Fukuoka by Rubén Martín de Lucas -who we recently interviewed– were also present at the gallery’s booth, but he was also one of the best represented artists at the fair thanks to having been selected for the ONE PROJECT program, which allowed him to show the latest developments of his investigation regarding borders and the behaviors of the human population.

3 Punts (Barcelona)

Sculptures by Samuel Salcedo.

Another gallery with a wide selection of artists was 3 Punts. In this case I particularly liked the intersections between the diverse approaches to sculpture of artists Alejandro Monge, who cracks the perfectly innocent appearance of regular objects to criticize different aspects of society; Gerard Mas, whose wooden figures seem to have a life of their own; and Samuel Salcedo, especially his hyper-realistic, sinister little humans made of resin.

Marc Calzada (Barcelona)

Joan Miró, ‘Femme’, 1981.

Also from Barcelona, Marc Calzada brought something different to Art Madrid: the work of modern Spanish masters like Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Saura, Miquel Barceló, or Joan Miró. The gallery’s selection of works encapsulated some of the best exponents of Spanish art from the twentieth-century, and included rare items such as a doodle by Miró on a torn piece of cardboad.

Galeria Kreisler (Madrid)

Okuda San Miguel, ‘Mom’s Bird’, 2016.

The work of Madrid-based multidisciplinary artist Okuda San Miguel, shown by Galeria Kreisler, stood out as one of the most visually compelling in this edition of Art Madrid. Combining elements of Urban Art and Pop Surrealism, San Miguel has created a very personal, rainbow-colored universe using a huge range of techniques, including mural painting (check out how he transformed a 100-year-old church into a skate park). One of his most interesting works at the fair was ‘Mom’s Bird’ (2016), made of wool on canvas.

Yiri Arts (Taiwan)

Yiri Arts at Art Madrid ’17.

The booth of Yiri Arts, a gallery from Taipei, was one of my favourites this year. It featured pieces by four artists, two Spanish (Mónica Subidé and Núria Farré) and two Taiwanese (Chen Yun and Wang Guan-Jhen). Their figurative paintings and small-scale sculptures were among the subtlest and most captivating in the whole fair, and they left me hoping to see more from this gallery in the next edition of Art Madrid.

Art Madrid ’17, Galería de Cristal, CentroCentro Cibeles, 22 – 26 February, 2017.

“Cámara de las Maravillas”, the first solo show in Europe by American artist and father of Pop Surrealism Mark Ryden (1963, Medford, Oregon), has brought thousands of people to the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) in Málaga, Spain, since it opened last December. It is no wonder that it has attracted so much attention, as it puts together 55 works covering 20 years of creation by the artist, including iconic pieces such Incarnation (2009) –the inspiration behind Lady Gaga’s 2010 meat dress-, most of which are kept in private collections.

The 2012 painting The Parlor – Allegory of Magic, Quintessence, and Divine Mystery opens the show, anticipating many of the elements that the visitor is going to encounter throughout the exhibition: a strange assortment of semi-human characters, a theatrical space populated by a myriad of symbols, odd creatures that are often both ridiculous and disturbing, a whole lot of irony and an exquisite technique that dissolves the brushstrokes into a continuous and delicate surface. His meticulous and detailed work brings to mind that of old Venetian masters like Vittore Carpaccio and Giovanni Bellini. While grounded in contemporary pop culture, Ryden’s works are reminiscent of many previous artistic periods and styles, from French Neoclassicism to the Pre-Raphaelites and, of course, also Surrealism.

The earliest work in the exhibition is the painting Saint Barbie (1994), while the most recent, the sculpture Wood Meat Dress (2016), was created especially for the Málaga show. From the young girl worshiping a goddess-like Barbie doll to the eerie, sad-eyed sculpted lady, we are able to observe the evolution of the physiognomy of Ryden’s peculiar female characters through the years.

All the different series that the artist has exhibited in the past –The Meat Show (1998), Bunnies & Bees (2001), Blood (2003), The Tree Show (2007), The Snow Yak Show (2009), The Gay 90’s (2010), The Gay 90’s West (2014), and Dodecahedron (2015)— are represented here, plus the original artwork for the cover of Michael Jacksons’ album Dangerous and three beautiful porcelain figures made in the last five years. However, the works are neither grouped in series nor displayed in chronological order, and this makes the artist’s ultimate concerns and interests, such as Science and the destruction of Nature, even more evident throughout the exhibition.

The big exhibition space of the CAC has been articulated in a way that allows the visitor to see many of the pieces at the same time, encouraging many dialogues and correspondences not also between the works, but also between their magnificent frames. These have never been a secondary element for the artist, who designs many of them himself so they perfectly match and complete each of the paintings.

Adjectives like kitsch, naïve, creepy or sentimental are often used to define Ryden’s aesthetic, but these labels don’t do any justice to the complexity of his work. The best way to approach this cabinet of curiosities is with the eyes of a child, leaving preconceived ideas at home and letting your imagination run free.

“Cámara de las Maravillas” is a real treat, well worth a trip to Málaga. Those who already love the work of Mark Ryden will be delighted to see together such a careful selection of old as well as new pieces, while those unfamiliar with the artist have here a wonderful opportunity to dive into his enigmatic universe, which is very much alive and still evolving.

Mark Ryden’s  “Cámara de las Maravillas”, curated by Fernando Francés, is on view at CAC Málaga until March 5, 2017.



Autumn. The season of cooler weather, multicolored leaves, long strolls in the Heath and marrons glacés, the time when we all start reminiscing about our summer fun and get ready for winter. However, the fall season is not only warmer clothes and hot chocolate, but also the time for major art happenings around the world.

Autumn, and especially October, is the time to follow new fashion trends at fashion weeks in the major cities, and to enjoy weeks of art. The Old World’s art capital – London – started long ago to prepare for the first week of October, aka the busiest and most stressful time in the art world.

The annual arrival of Frieze – the art fair opening in Regent’s Park October 6-8th – and it’s daughter Frieze Masters trigger parallel art happenings, such as the most important contemporary art evening auctions, art festivals, art shows and a myriad of talks and events throughout the capital, in order to benefit from the arrival of the art world’s mighty and try to get a piece of that juicy cake.

Find below a list of TOP artsy things to do this October in London and, believe me, you will want to be one to visit them:

1. Frieze Art Fair

Arguably the most well-known art fair today, though not the most visited one (according to the annual report by ArtVista) Frieze opens for the 13th time this October at Regent’s Park.

Note-by: if you feel unsure about spending 60 pounds on combined ticket to both Frieze&Frieze Masters, make sure to stroll in Regent’s Park – Frieze Sculpture Park is free for all and this year features canonical artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Ed Herring, and Lynn Chadwick just to name a few. The Sculpture Park will be on view for you to visit until January 8th, 2017.

2. 1:54 Art Fair


1:54 Contemproary Art Fair, Somerset House Courtyard View. Courtesy of Artsy.

The fair of contemporary African Art, 1:54 will return for the forth time to Somerset House this October. Representing over 50 African countries, 1:54 breaks the traditional approaches to art fairs and delivers a must-see program. The largest edition yet, the fair takes over the whole Somerset House this October and showcases 40 galleries.

Note-by: stop by the open-air installation by Zak Ove at the Somerset House’s courtyard, as well as by the unmissable exhibition of the exceptional Malick Sidibé (Malian photographer) – the exhibition will be on view for you to see up until January 15th, 2017.

3. Abstract Expressionism at RA

Presumably you heard of the name Pollock. Or you heard that one of his paintings titled No 5 (1948) is one of the most expensive paintings in history and was sold for $165.4 million at an auction. Or maybe you didn’t. But the fact is that this exhibition is the first major retrospective of the Abstract Expressionist art movement in the UK in 70 years. Think abstraction, color fields and visual travel. You ought to see it.

Note-by: The most interesting part is the inclusion of not only famous names like Pollock and Rothko in the exhibition, but also of other artists who contributed to the movement.

4. Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

This must-see exhibition presents just how talented Picasso was. The show will display portraits created during every stage of the artist’s career and will showcase famous masterpieces, as well never seen before works from private collections.

Note-by: the granddaughter of the artist, Diana Widmaier-Picasso, will be in conversation with the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Dr Nicholas Cullinan, on the 6th of October at 7pm, giving her views on Picasso’s portraiture.

5. Beyond Caravaggio at the National Gallery

Another must-visit show in London focuses on Caravaggio. It is important to note, though,  that the primary accent will be given to the influence that the artist had on his contemporaries by showcasing the works of lesser-known artists of the time. So-called Caravaggism will be explored throughout the exhibition and bring together works by Caravaggio and his European followers.

Note-by: The National Gallery created a series of events and talks to introduce visitors to the Caravagesque style and to Caravaggio himself throughout the month of October. If you are a fan of Baroque art, or just a curious soul, make sure to check some of them out.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Mona Hatoum’s tribute exhibition at Tate Modern, London. This particular piece is sensitively related to how an immigrant and refugee managed to break into a cultural scene that could seem enclosed and restricted only to Western artists.

When we think about globalization, we must understand that it affects us in many ways. One of them is cultural expansion. People travel longer distances with less effort nowadays, and decide to immigrate more often, carrying a large baggage full of customs, language influences, and cultural habits with them. Technology also spreads very quickly, connecting more and more people each day.

As ethnic and national populations move around the globe, they establish emotional ties with their places of origin. Artists in particular express their emotional longing, admiration, and sometimes worship of their mother lands in pieces of art that become part of their new country’s cultural heritage.

Shirin Neshat , Rebellious Silence (1994). B&W RC print & ink, photo by Cynthia Preston. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat , Rebellious Silence (1994). B&W RC print & ink, photo by Cynthia Preston. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Contemporary Middle Eastern art, for instance, seems to provide answers to all the questions that the rest of the world has about this region’s traditions and cultural background. It is a silent voice that leaves a perpetual echo, one that sings the chorus of a struggle and of tortured beauty. There can be no discrimination in the space of art. A painting, a photograph, a sculpture or an installation remain anonymous for the viewer during the first few minutes of interaction. The name of the artist comes as a revelation. The level of admiration increases, the act of understanding intensifies, and finally an interest has been planted for a long time in the brain and heart of the art lover.

In today’s context, Abu Dhabi is expected to finalize works on its own branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums, which will shift the interest of the world from this distant city’s extravagant architecture and lifestyle, to its status as one of the world’s capitals for contemporary art.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

Abu Dhabi is not the first capital to host both Middle Eastern and global art in an environment that unfortunately is not usually linked to the idea of globalization. For instance, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, experienced a renaissance of sorts in the mid-20th century. Following World War II, the city became a tourist destination and a financial center. It was even nicknamed “the Paris of the Middle East” thanks to its French influences and vibrant cultural and intellectual life.

Architect Galal Mahmoud said about Beirut that its history is encompassed in the history of the world, as it includes layers of Roman, Ottoman, Persian and Phoenician influences. Today, Beirut is a place where you can constantly navigate between different minorities and their cultural backgrounds; it is a place where you learn to be more tolerant and open, where you must respect people from a variety of beliefs and backgrounds. It pretty much sounds like Paris today, or London, or New York.

Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. Photo:

Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. Photo:

Now, could Abu Dhabi offer the same vibe? Will the opening of these two monster houses of art attract only the nouveaux riches, or also well-educated and art-thirsty tourists? With a long history of influences (first Iranian in the 1900s, followed by Asian and European in the 1950s and 1960s), just like most of the big capitals of the world, Abu Dhabi is a place that can host most, if not all, the Middle Eastern art outbreaks.

The architectural design of the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum was offered to architect Frank Gehry, who describes the idea behind the structure as: “… Low tech language. The character is messy… like a medieval city that came together over time… You go through this messiness and you find the centre.” The museum will be located on Saadiyat Island, just offshore of the city of Abu Dhabi. The island’s Cultural District will house the largest cluster of world-class cultural assets in Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim building is part of a massive project to “create an exhibition space intended to turn this once-sleepy desert city along the Persian Gulf into an international arts capital and tourist destination.” (The New York Times)

Louvre Abu Dhabi. Source:

Louvre Abu Dhabi. Source:

“Someday, my paintings will be hanging in the Louvre”, van Gogh once said. A museum does not need further introduction. Abu Dhabi is preparing to open the doors to their very own Louvre -possibly in 2017-, a project that consists on building an island inside an island. The architect, Jean Nouvel, wants the museum to belong completely to the culture, history, geography and climate of Abu Dhabi. He has envisioned a place that people would want visit and revisit. As in most Arab cities, there will be a strong contrast between the temperature outside and inside of the venue. People will feel good thanks to this, and will want to share the experience with other people there. A medina of art, built with traditional architectural techniques, held together by an impressive modern dome that encompasses the beauty and poetry of light.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Image © Gehry Partners.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Image © Gehry Partners.

With these two architectural masterpieces, I believe that Abu Dhabi is breaking into the art world in the most elegant way possible. With the work of those Middle Eastern artists that have been moving audiences throughout the world, and with a continuous flow of ideas and cultural influences, the opening of the Guggenheim and Louvre buildings in the island of Abu Dhabi is announcing that the world is yet to be enchanted and pleasantly surprised.

Federico Fellini once said that “all art is autobiographical”, and Middle Eastern art is constantly underlining this statement. Globally, we are becoming an entity, we are coming closer and closer, and art has a lot to gain from this beautiful gathering of cultural differences. One day, people will be reading “An Autobiography of Earth’s Cultural Identity”.

The Prado, the Reina Sofía, the Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you are travelling to Madrid, those are the museums you will most likely visit. They are, of course, a must-see.  But the city is packed with interesting museums and galleries outside this so-called Golden Triangle of Art. There are hundreds of things to see, but today I am focusing on a small exhibition in one of my favourite spots, the ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration.

The museum building, a former beer factory built in the nineteenth century, hosts the ABC Collection, which includes nearly 200,000 artworks that sum up a century of graphic art in Spain. One of their exhibition programmes, Connections, invites artists linked to the world of drawing to develop a project for the museum, taking as its starting point works from the ABC Collection and the Santander Collection.

Photo: Museo ABC.

Photo: Museo ABC.

The latest edition of Connections presents the work of Madrid-based artist Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980), who exhibits Fate Lines, a project inspired by a tarot session with a Cuban “Santera”. The artist reinterprets nine tarot figures in her very original and well-defined vocabulary, in which different referents –such as Baroque, Pop, Surrealism, and Symbolism— coexist.

Left: a. t. c. (Ángeles Torner Cervera) Blanco y Negro cover, 2th november, 1930 . Colección ABC. Right: Alcora Royal Factory vases. Second period (1749-1786). Colección Banco Santander.

Left: a. t. c. (Ángeles Torner Cervera) Blanco y Negro cover, 2th november, 1930 . Colección ABC. Right: Alcora Royal Factory vases. Second period (1749-1786). Colección Banco Santander.

The exhibition only occupies one small room at the museum, where Vargas’s giant tarot cards (they  are more than 2 metres tall) are the main attraction, capturing the viewer’s eye with their intricate details. The works the artist has taken for inspiration are a pair of eighteenth-century ornamental ceramic vases made in the Royal Factory of Alcora (Valencian Community) and a 1930 cover of the Spanish magazine Blanco y Negro. Both the vases and the cover are linked to the designs in the Spanish playing cards, which are mixed with those in the Tarot de Marseille in Vargas’s works.

Marina Vargas studied Fine Art at the University of Granada, and her work has been shown, among other places, in New York, Mexico, La Habana and Milan. She uses different media to explore her many interests, which include religion, symbolism, and identity. I am particularly fascinated by her sculptural work around the idea of classical beauty, such as the pieces featured in her 2015 exhibition Nor Animal Neither Angel, at CAC Málaga.

Marina Vargas, 'Nueve de copas' ['Nine of Cups'], 2016

Marina Vargas, ‘Nueve de copas’ [‘Nine of Cups’], 2016

In the case of her tarot cards, everything starts with a digital drawing where Vargas combines different images. She then transfers this to a wood panel using graphite and proceeds to apply paint. However, she returns to drawing over and over during the process, as can be seen in a couple of cards which the artist has left unfinished.

That is precisely the most interesting aspect of Fate Lines: that it offers the viewer the opportunity to learn more about the artist’s process. Besides the aforementioned works, the exhibition also includes a video of the tarot session that inspired the series, the images and documents that Vargas used during her research, and a collage that developed in her studio walls while she worked on the pieces.

Marina Vargas, ‘Siete de oros’ [‘Seven of Gold’], 2016.

Georges Braque, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and Leonora Carrington are some of the artists that were inspired by the Tarot de Marseille. For Marina Vargas it becomes the perfect medium to explore her interest in symbolism. But her own language is so powerful that it not only modifies, but completely transmutes the traditional images, while at the same time the signs of her destiny are assimilated into her own particular language.

Marina Vargas. Fate Lines. Museo ABC (Amaniel 29-31, Madrid). 17 Jun – 20 Nov 2016.


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.


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.

Japanese artist Mariko Mori’s Ring: One with Nature (2016) is a three meter wide ring overlooking a 58-meter waterfall in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest, in Véu da Noiva, Mangaratiba. The permanent installation is arranged to allow the shift of colors with the movement of the sun, changing from vibrant blue to a bright gold as it is backlighted by the sunrise. Striking in its minimalism, Mori’s sculpture is multifaceted both in its conception and effect. The artist has since stated that the idea originated as an inspiring, ethereal dream  of a ring over a waterfall, which she sought to actualize in physical space. Rooted in a spiritual beginning, the installation took on an even broader range of meaning through its inherently environmental message and relation to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Artist Mariko Mori photographed by David Sims. Courtesy of Faou Foundation.

Artist Mariko Mori photographed by David Sims. Courtesy of Faou Foundation.

Faou Foundation, Mori’s nonprofit in New York which promotes global environmental awareness, produced the sculpture and gave it as a gift to Brazil’s environmental institute, Instituto Estadual do Ambiente (INEA). The installation further actualizes its environmental message through formal symbolism. The singular ring set above the Véu da Noiva waterfalls functions as a conceptual extension of the five Olympic rings, highlighting the message of unification between countries to nature’s realm. This is a crucial message for the planet in its current state of the ecological crisis. Through her highly symbolic gesture, Mori successfully utilizes the Olympics as a platform of global synchrony with nature.

Symbolism behind the ring’s physical form also functions as a reminder of the cyclic relationship between humanity and nature, tracing back to prehistoric times. The artist’s choice of the circle also correlates to organic, archetypal forms found within natural landscapes, further strengthening the timelessness of the piece through its minimalistic expression. The sixth Olympic ring was unveiled on August 2 with a ritual-like ceremony including music and performance by participants dressed in all white. The white color further amplified the artist’s statement of universal oneness and reinforced thematic connections to ancestry and tradition.

Mariko Mori’s recent sculpture recalls her previous work in terms of its synthesis of ancient traditions and belief systems with modern technology. The result is a truly present object that is not only relevant to modern times but also introduces a sense of deeper archetypal connection in its audience. This element is also present in Transcircle 1.1 (2004), where Mori composes a modernized version of the ancient Stonehenge with a constantly shifting scenery of lights. The structure integrates elements of both prehistoric Japanese and Celtic traditions, introducing a personalized synthesis of cross-cultural mythology that is also present in Ring: One with Nature. Mori uses live data taken from a neutrino physics laboratory in Japan to monitor the play of lights in Transcircle 1.1, achieving a startling, distinguished presence that echoes throughout her body of work.

Photograph of Mariko Mori's Ring: One With Nature (2016), Courtesy of Faou Foundation

Photograph of Mariko Mori’s Ring: One With Nature (2016), Courtesy of Faou Foundation

Through integrating technological advances with an artistically spiritual vision, Mori achieves a rich spectacle in Ring: One with Nature and makes a profound statement about humanity’s potential for unity. Her sculpture is a reminder that mankind is capable of creating structures that are environmentally friendly, culturally unifying and profitable all at once. In context of Mori’s previous works, the sixth Olympic ring becomes a part of the artist’s overarching vision that places vital importance on human presence and agency in our global landscape. Her message is both simple and profound. It deeply resonates at this time, calling for unity between nations as well as between mankind and the earth.

Bernardí Roig (Palma de Mallorca, 1965) is one of the most important exponents of the current Spanish art scene. I discovered his work in 2013, while visiting the Spanish National Sculpture Museum. Roig’s disturbing white men were placed among Renaissance and Baroque saints and virgins, surprising visitors with their unexpected presence. It was not the first time that the artist had shown his works among those in museums dedicated to other artistic periods. He has even exhibited them inside iconic religious buildings, such as the Cathedral of Burgos.

A sculpture by Bernardí Roig at the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid. Photo Gerardo López López.

A sculpture by Bernardí Roig at the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid. Photo: Gerardo López López.

This enigmatic intrusion into one of my favourite museums was unforgettable. Therefore, I was very excited to encounter Roig’s works again this summer. In this case the location was Sala Alcalá 31, a very singular exhibition room in the heart of Madrid. This wide, vaulted space built in the 1930s, allows artists and curators to create very interesting and often bold displays. Its unconventional architectural structure, which resembles that of a church, has hosted memorable exhibitions. For instance, Brian Eno presented his 77 Million Paintings there in 2014.

Sala Alcalá 31, Madrid. Foto: Pedro Martínez de Albornoz

Sala Alcalá 31, Madrid. Photo: Pedro Martínez de Albornoz

In the case of Roig’s recent solo show, Mind Your Head [Cuidado con la cabeza], light was a crucial element. It created the perfect setting for the sculptures, installations, photographs, objects, videos, and drawings on show. All of them were made during the last two decades, and touched upon many aspects of Roig’s artistic vision.

The mysterious atmosphere of the rooms was striking. It was mainly due to the harsh lighting coming from the fluorescent tubes of some of the artworks. In addition, the building’s theatrical character and the overwhelming presence of white also contributed to create the impression of walking into a sinister alternative reality. Or a place taken from someone’s troubled imagination.

'Fauno in love', 2014. Photo: Guillermo Gumiel.

‘Fauno in love’, 2014. Photo: Guillermo Gumiel.

The first artwork that I encountered was ‘Fauno in love’. It introduced one of the main themes of the exhibition: the limits between human and animal. The idea of the metamorphosis is one of Roig’s recurrent themes, and he has explored it in many of his works. An example can be found in ‘Diana and Actaeon’, a twisted rendition of the classical myth featured in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

'Diana y Acteón', 2005. Image courtesy of Galería Max Estrella.

‘Diana and Actaeon’, 2005. Image courtesy of Galería Max Estrella.

One of my favorite pieces was an installation inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s short story Der Italiener. A life-sized sculpture of a dead ox hanging from the ceiling was its main component. In Roig’s interpretation of this subject, which Rembrandt depicted centuries ago, the animal’s insides are transformed into artificial light. Nearby, a tv monitor showing a clip from an 1971 experimental film based on Bernhard’s work completed the display.

Left: 'GERMANIA', 2015. Right: 'Der Italiener (the ox)', 2011.

Left: ‘GERMANIA’, 2015. Right: ‘Der Italiener (the ox)’, 2011.

Besides the spectacular installations, which definitely make an impression, I was particularly drawn to the series POETS. In these drawings, Roig portrays different figures from the Spanish artistic sphere. They all appear dressed in the same austere white robe, with the word “poet” written on it. Their faces, barely recognisable, are distorted by the artist’s strokes. Last year, Galería Max Estrella exhibited the photographs that preceded this series within the framework of the PHotoEspaña festival.

‘POETS’, 2016.

As curator Fernando Castro Flórez pointed out, the exhibition Mind Your Head acted as a warning: be careful when entering your own mind, as what you see may be difficult to recount. After such an intense and unique experience, I cannot wait to submerge myself again into the fascinating visions that constitute Roig’s obsessions.

If you happen to be in Argentina this summer, do not miss Roig’s exhibition at MUNTREF, in Buenos Aires. To know more about the artist, I recommend watching this interview.

A virtual tour of Bernardí Roig’s exhibition Mind Your Head is available here. You have been warned!

I first heard about artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah last year, when her installation Silence was removed from the exhibition “Femina ou la Réappropriation des modèles” at the Pavillon Vendôme in Clichy, France, after receiving threats from a Muslim group about the possibility of a violent reaction to the piece. A similar incident surrounding California-based artist Mark Ryden and his painting Rosie’s Tea Party, currently on display at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, has brought Bouabdellah’s work back to my attention, enabling me to rediscover her often ambiguous point of view. As it turns out, the timing could not have been more perfect: her work is currently featured in three different exhibitions across Spain and will be the object of a solo show in the autumn as well.

Silence Noir, 2016. Image courtesy of MUSAC.

Silence Noir, 2016. Image courtesy of MUSAC.

Her controversial piece Silence can be seen until June 12 at MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León) as part of the group show “Lucy’s Iris”. Bouabdellah usually adapts her works to the different contexts and spaces where they are exhibited, and in this case the installation has been titled Silence Noir. Composed of nine prayer rugs and the same number of pairs of golden shoes, perhaps the colour black has been chosen because of its historical association with Spain and particularly with Castile, the region where this exhibition is taking place. In the Spanish context, I cannot help but associate it with the traditional black outfit –composed of a lace veil (the mantilla) and a high comb (the peineta), as well as the mandatory high heels— still worn today by some women during Holy Week (the week leading to Easter), bullfights and sometimes even weddings (a great example can be found in Francisco de Goya’s 1797 portrait of the Duchess of Alba).

Afrita Hanem - Dentelle VI, 2016. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

Afrita Hanem – Dentelle VI, 2016. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

Black lace is used as a sort of camouflage in the series of drawings and prints Afrita Hanem, where the artist reproduces stills from the 1949 Egyptian film of the same name. Filled with double entendres, this film perpetuates the stereotype of the femme fatale, omnipresent both in Eastern and Western traditions.

Born in Moscow in 1977, Bouabdellah grew up in Algiers and moved to France in 1993. Her work explores cultural dualities and identity issues, and although it can be linked to feminist theories, one of its most characteristic qualities is its ambivalence.  As the artist herself states, she seeks “to push forward boundaries, to create interactions between them”. She claims to be a “«second sex», a free-thinker sex” who oscillates between a dominant and a submissive position, constantly alternating between claiming and defying pre-established codes and rules.

Nues Endroit/Nues Envers II, 2014. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

Nues Endroit/Nues Envers II, 2014. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

This leads to many of her works not having a direct, clear message. Such is the case of her collage series Nues Endroit/Nues Envers, where the artist cuts two of the most iconic female nudes in art history into oriental, decorative shapes and combines the resulting pieces to create two different images. These kaleidoscopic visions both appeal to the viewer’s curiosity and frustrate any attempt to reconstruct the female bodies, consequently reinforcing their power of attraction. Bouabdellah seems to be visually exploring the Orientalist veil through which many male artists have looked at the female body in order to create the perfect object of desire, whose appeal lies in its inaccessibility.

Venus au miroir II, 2016. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

Venus au miroir II, 2016. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

“Objets de désir” is precisely the title of Bouabdellah’s current solo show at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid), which includes the aforementioned collage series as well as a video, a sound installation and several drawings and photographs that investigate the distance between the individual who desires and the object of desire itself.

The show focuses particularly on how women have been, and still are, objectified in visual culture. Perhaps one of the most fascinating works present in the exhibition is Venus au miroir, an enigmatic photographic series where the canon of occidental female beauty confronts its own image, leaving us wondering which goddess is the object and which the reflection.


If you happen to be in Spain, don’t miss the chance to see some of Bouabdellah’s works! Objects de désir runs at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid) until 3 June 2016. Lucy’s Iris. Contemporary African Women Artists runs at MUSAC (León) until 12 June 2016. She also participates in the group show Wastelands, curated by Piedad Solans at Es Baluard in Mallorca (until 19 June 2016), and in late October the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno – CAAM (Las Palmas, Canary Islands) will also host a retrospective exhibition by the artist.