In: Louise Bourgeois
August 14, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is currently on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Bourgeois (1911-2010) is best known for her large-scale sculptures, one of which is located in the museum’s sculpture garden. However, with twenty-one works, including drawings, prints, and sculptures, the exhibit provides an intimate look into the mind of a truly remarkable artist as she contemplated themes of life, death, domesticity, and womanhood.
The French-American artist was born to a prosperous Parisian family in 1911. Her family owned a gallery in Aubusson, the tapestry producing region of central France and home to Bourgeois’s mother’s family. The artist spent part of her childhood working in the gallery where her family sold and restored antique tapestries, helping repair them by filling in worn areas, using lines to indicate where stitches should be made. These experiences made a lasting impression, as displayed in Bourgeois’s early works on view in the National Gallery’s exhibition. The images recall the cascading rivers and mountain peaks of Aubusson, while simultaneously recalling the interweavings of textiles.
She began her long and prolific career as an artist in the early 1930s after being introduced to the Surrealists, whose ideology centered on the creative potential of the unconscious mind. After marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater and moving to New York in 1938, she became reacquainted with the European Surrealists who were exiled during the war. Yet, the artist herself denied the label of a Surrealist. “At the mention of surrealism, I cringe. I am not a surrealist.” Still, it is difficult to separate the whimsicality and bizarre juxtapositions of her work from that of the Surrealists, or even their predecessors, the Dadaists. The works in the show bring to mind Francis Picabia’s mechanical portraits, Max Ernst’s collages, or Joan Miró’s landscapes.
Instead Bourgeois preferred the label of existentialist, admiring the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and, of course, Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s 1944 play, No Exit, from which the exhibition takes its name, is the story of three recently departed souls on their way to hell, anticipating the physical torment they are about to endure. As it turns out, the pain they experience in hell is not physical, but psychological. Their hell is being trapped in a room from which there is no escape for all eternity with the people they despise the most, each other – just imagine going to a dinner party with all the people you’ve ever blocked on Facebook, and then multiply that feeling by infinity. As Sartre famously says, “Hell is other people.”
While Bourgeois draws her inspiration from Sartre, her personal hell seems to be the absence of other people. The nine engravings and enigmatic parables that volume He Disappeared into Complete Silence (1947) show Bourgeois at her most Surreal. The subjects, ranging from a little girl who buried her coveted candy in the ground, only to find that it has been ruined by the damp soil, to a man who cuts up his wife and serves her at a dinner party, represent what the artist referred to as “tiny tragedies of human frustration.” The characters of her story show indifference, or even cruelty towards one another, conveying the deep sense of isolation that often embodies Bourgeois’s work. We are left with a sense of ambivalence towards them, they commit acts that signal both internal and external conflict. One plate tells the story of a loving but overbearing mother, and a son “of a quiet nature and rather intelligent,” but who is indifferent to his mother’s love. The prodigal son leaves, and later the mother dies without his knowledge. Three haunting, elongated figures occupy the space, prompting us to wonder who the third figure could be. The feeling we are left with is one of remorse and sympathy for the mother, but also for the son. The print could be semi-autobiographical, Bourgeois lost her mother at 21 years old, around the time she was beginning her career. This loss had a profound effect on her artwork, seen especially in her series Maman, and again in what could be seen as a companion piece, M is for Mother (1998). The latter, on view in the exhibit, is a drawing of an imposing letter M that conveys both maternal comfort and control. With such a conflict, Bourgeois forces us to question our relationships with those around us.
Like Sartre, she believed that free will was the essence of existentialist thought, but unlike Sartre, she also believed that our pasts inform our future. Deeply fixed memories inspired her oeuvre over the course of a remarkably long career. This reluctance to let go meant that she rarely considered a work finished, generally leaving open the possibility of a future iteration. One of her later books, the puritan (1990), deals precisely with this theme. This bound volume of eight hand-colored engravings on handmade paper takes place in New York, and is a story of lost love. “With the puritan,” Bourgeois explained, “I analyzed an episode forty years after it happened. I could see things from a distance…I put it on a grid…I considered the situation objectively, scientifically, not emotionally. I was interested not in anxiety, but in perspective, in seeing things from different points of view.”
A number of sculptures are included in the exhibit as well, ranging from her small but recognizable cast Germinal (1967), to the life-sized sculptures the artist referred to as “Personages.” These sculptures, Bourgeois said, were made to be exhibited at ground level so that they could be interacted with “like people.” While they exist in our space, they also stand isolated and detached. Made from modest, often discarded materials and employing simple methods of construction, these totemic figures reflect a wartime sensibility of salvage and reuse in a damaged environment.
Bourgeois’s work asks a timeless and essential question: in periods of conflict, uncertainty, or hostility, can we live meaningful lives? It seems to me that Bourgeois would say that it is in these moments that we are at our most authentic, and that the greatest struggle we have to overcome is not external, but internal. This is, however, a question Bourgeois would want us to answer for ourselves.
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is on view until May 15, 2016.
March 8, 2016
The second installment (see the first one here) of our top contemporary art galleries in London looks at the younger contingent of the spaces that now exist in the city; fresh, dynamic and often left-field channels which keep the arts scene buzzing with new ideas.
In a nutshell: Charles Saatchi may have attacked the White Cube’s namesake white-walled galleries in 2003, saying that they are “antiseptic” and “worryingly” old-fashioned but that did not stop the franchise making its way to the top of London’s contemporary art scene. The White Cube galleries may have even profited from Saatchi’s public diatribe, choosing to stick proudly to their white walls and continue their work, irrespective of his views. With its roots in East London, the first White Cube gallery in Mason’s Yard, associated with the neighbouring Young British Artists, and came to prominence when it gave YBA Tracey Emin one of her first shows. The gallery has, however, somewhat departed from its East-End/YBA origins, accepting the wave of gentrification that has flooded the area. A climactic moment in the franchise’s transformation was the graffitiing of “Yuppies Out” and “Class War” on the Bermondsey branch by anti-gentrification activists, this being the very space that is now one of Europe’s biggest commercial galleries. However, if you can forgive and forget, or don’t care, then the White Cube will provide you with a compelling contemporary program ranging a multitude of disciplines.
Where: Mason’s Yard SW1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday //Bermondsey Street, SE1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday with late opening at 12pm on Sunday. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: Established in 2010, the gallery’s founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern regularly feature in ArtReview’s top 100 most important people in the contemporary art world. And this is no empty accolade; before launching Blain|Southern, the duo were at the helm of London’s Haunch of Venison gallery which was sold to Christie’s in 2007. Their time at Haunch of Venison allowed them to build up an impressive artists network which, by the time of its initiation, gave Blain|Southern a critical edge, associating with names such as Richard Long and Keith Tyson to name a few. While the gallery is only 6 years old, it has already hosted many acclaimed exhibitions such as the much touted survey of Lucian Freud’s drawings in 2012 – Drawings. And with its setting in Hanover Square being a stones throw from New Bond Street, a.k.a. auction superhighway, the location is a veritable arts hub.
Where: Hanover Square, W1S. Open 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday except early closing at 5pm on Saturday. Closed Sunday.
In a nutshell: Victoria Miro, unofficially crowned one of the “grande dames of the Britart scene” can even boast that she had famous babysitters – Sam Taylor-Wood having done her the honour in Miro’s child-rearing years that “stunted her creativity”. Fast-forward a few years and a few galleries later, and her eponymous franchise has two locations in London as well as others worldwide, representing major contemporary artists such as Chris Ofili and Grayson Perry. In opposition (albeit unintentional) with one of its locations in the exclusive Mayfair area, the gallery’s Wharf Road space was set up in 2000 in Islington, and, like the Whitechapel and White Cube, it’s close proximity to Hoxton quickly linked it with London’s cutting-edge experimental arts scene. The 8,000 sq.ft. space is housed in a beautifully restored ex-furniture factory and has its own garden located next to Regent’s Canal at Wenlock Basin. The spacious and natural(ish) location often lends itself to exhibitions such as Maria Nepomuceno’s The Force (2011), so expect a nice departure from the concrete jungle.
Where: Mayfair, W1 // Wharf Road N1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: Like Blain and Southern, Iwan and Manuela Wirth (two thirds of the gallery’s founding body) have been ranked in the top most influential people in the contemporary art world by ArtReview. The other third of the gallery’s foundation is Ursula Hauser who, together with the Wirth’s, set up their first gallery in Switzerland in 1992 and has since grown into an acclaimed global art franchise. The gallery’s London location has moved around a lot since its inauguration in 2003, from Piccadilly to Cheshire Street in the East End, to Swallow Street, Old Bond Street and finally, Savile Row. The gallery’s punch probably comes from its balanced representation of over fifty emerging artists and industry heavyweights like Louise Bourgeois and Martin Creed. It also gains its reputation from its publishing offshoot, having published over 100 titles since 1992 specialising in modern and contemporary art, such as Phyllida Barlow’s Fifty Years of Drawings (2014). The gallery’s worldwide locations include a fabulous rural setting on a Somerset farm in the West of England.
Where: Savile Row, W1. Open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: “WE EXIST FOR U”/ “THE WORLD’S FINEST” shouts the Unit London’s website. This might give you an idea of the gallery’s mission: to show dynamic and forward-thinking artists who are chosen for just those reasons, irrespective of of “reputation, culture or background”. The gallery is run by two young English guys – Johnny Burt and Joe Kennedy – who see social media as a as a “commercial tool”. In fact, their show Paintguide was Instagram-curated and certainly the first of its kind. Now, after 3 years of running Unit, they have buyers all over the world, showing the efficiency of this contemporary marketing method. They represent a roster of British and international artists including the likes of Paul Rousso and Cecile Plaisance. Their all-inclusive outlook could perhaps benefit from a larger female contingent, but the work on display is frequently changing and updating, a process you can follow via their Instagram.
Read our interview with Unit London founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt here.
Where: Soho, W1. Open everyday 11am-7pm.