My friend William MacDougall likes to say that Russian Contemporary Art offers the best value for money to be had in the saleroom. I couldn’t agree more. The biggest problem is that so few people know about it. Not one Russian gallery, for instance, took part in the world’s top contemporary fair – Art Basel – this June
I have been reporting on Russian contemporary art since 2005, and attended every Moscow Biennale since 2007. There is a screaming contrast between Russia’s sluggish commercial set-up and the vibrancy of its non-commercial scene, epitomized by daring displays of art imbued with flair and technical skill in a plethora of museums, cultural centres and derelict industrial premises.
The goal of our RA+C Biennales Tour is to give Western art-lovers a rare opportunity to get an insider glimpse of this well-kept secret.
Our three nights in Moscow are anchored by the 7th Moscow Biennale, to be staged in the superbly elegant Manezh close to Red Square. But we will branch out to visit some of the adventurous satellite shows that proliferate across the city in the Biennale’s wake, as well as visiting some of Moscow’s leading museums and institutions for modern and contemporary art.
Adventurous is the Tour watchword: after Moscow, we will head deep into the Russian countryside to visit the Russian Land-Art Centre in Nikola-Lenivets. Land Art – giant constructions made from wood, straw and other natural materials – is a peculiarly Russian phenomenon. No overview of Russian contemporary art is complete without encountering it first hand.
Some of the finest Russian artists I have come across were in Khabarovsk, Vladivostok and Magnitigorsk: although Moscow is Russia’s commercial magnet, art thrives in the provinces. So we shall be spending two nights in Ekaterinburg to visit the fourth edition of the Urals Industrial Biennial. If you’ve ever wondered what Russia looks like on the confines of Asia, this is your chance to find out – in a pulsating metropolis that prides itself on its independence from the capital. And which, incidentally, hosts Eurasia’s finest Street Art gallery!
During our Tour we will meet artists, gallerists and collectors, as well as lunching and dining in restaurants carefully selected for their setting, ambiance and imaginative cuisine. Tour numbers are limited to just 15 people. I very much hope you can join us!
The tour begins with the 10:40 Aeroflot flight from Heathrow to Moscow, which is two hours ahead of London. We land at 16:20 at Sheremetevo Airport, 20 miles north of the capital. When I first started flying to Moscow in 2005, international flights were assigned to the ghastly Terminal 2 (now Terminal F), built in 1980 but rapidly a by-word for Soviet Grot. Now Aeroflot operates out of elegant Terminal D, opened in 2009. Our own bus will be waiting to whisk us to our hotel in central Moscow. Well, ‘whisk’ may be pushing it. Traffic in and around Moscow can be dense but, hopefully, going into the city in the late afternoon shouldn’t be too bad. We are staying at the Hotel Metropol, an Art Nouveau gem complete with Vrubel mosaics on the façades and a stained-glass roof in the dining-room, which is also used for breakfast – eaten, on my previous visits, to the sound of a long-gowned harpist up on the stage. Hope she’s still there! Bedrooms are not as swanky as those at, say, the Ritz or the Baltschug Kempinski, but neither are the prices. We have chosen the Metropol for its history, architecture and unbeatable location: 3 minutes on foot from Red Square and 7 minutes on foot from the Manezh. Both walks are through a picturesque pedestrian zone, not along busy streets.
The 7th Moscow Biennale opens at the Manezh in the evening, but plenty up before that, starting with visits to a couple of high-profile collectors. Frenchman Pierre Brochet moved to Moscow over 20 years ago and built up a stellar array of Russian contemporary art, which he displayed around the country (I caught up with him in Khabarovsk) in 2008, before selling some of it to Roman Abramovich. Igor Markin invested the fortune he made selling PVC windows in a collection of contemporary art that he showcases in a museum – open only by appointment – punningly entitled Art4.ru, ten minutes up the street from the Manezh. We also plan to take in the Jewish Museum, housed in a magnificently converted Constructivist tramshed designed by Konstantin Melnikov in the 1920s; the Museum of Russian Impressionism that opened in June 2016; the Ekaterina Foundation, a leading venue for contemporary exhibitions; and the dynamic Moscow Museum of Modern (read Contemporary) Art. After the Biennale Opening we shall repair to one of the Moscow’s finest and most historic restaurants – the Central House of Writers.
A day devoted to Biennale satellite exhibitions. As the programme for these is not likely to be out till August, we shall be flexible in our planning and adapt to what looks likely to be the most exciting and unusual shows majoring on Russian artists. Lunch is pencilled in for the Janus restaurant in the Leningradskaya Hotel – the only one of Stalin’s ‘Seven Sister’ skyscrapers open to the public that retains its original early ’50s ‘Imperial style.’ In late afternoon we head to Winzavod, a former wine depot converted into a contemporary art centre a decade ago. It houses three large exhibition halls and a number of art galleries, and is at its lively best at weekends. Dinner will be in the new Ruski restaurant that opened a few months ago on the 85th floor of the Eye skyscraper at the Moscow City business complex.
We begin with a trip on the Moscow Metro, admiring two hallmark stations from the 1930s (Ploschad Revolutsii and Kropotkinskaya), then Kurskaya, one of the neo-Baroque showpieces from the second wave of construction in the early ’50s. After a visit to the giant 1960s riverside building that doubles as home to the New Tretyakov (superb 20th century Russian art) and the Central House of Artists, we cross the road to Park Kultury (formerly Gorky Park), which has been jollified in recent years under the auspices of Dasha Zhukova – whose magnificent Garage Museum opened in 2015 in a Soviet building sleekly reclad by Rem Koolhaas. We’ll have a light lunch at the museum café before visiting the Multimedia Museum across the river (opened 2010), devoted to photography and video art. Then we depart by bus to Nikola-Lenivets, home to the Russian Land-Art Centre 130 miles south-west of Moscow, stopping off en route in Maloyaroslavets – scene of a decisive but little-known Napoleonic defeat on 24 October 1812. We have dinner lined up with local farmers and their freshest produce, then overnight on site.
After a guided tour of Nikola-Lenivets, we depart by bus for Vnukovo, the most attractive of Moscow’s three airports, to take the 15:35 flight to the capital of the Urals: Ekaterinburg, arriving 19:55 (Urals time is two hours ahead of Moscow). We will be staying at the Hotel DoubleTree Hilton on the city’s blockbuster central avenue, Prospekt Lenina. Dinner is slated for the dacha-style Pashtet restaurant close to the hotel.
The day will be devoted to visiting the 4th Urals Industrial Biennale, whose main venue – the 1960s Ural Toolmaking Plant on the lake-like banks of the River Iset – is a five-minute drive from our hotel. Chief curator João Ribas from Portugal promises 70 artists from 20 countries, albeit with a special focus on young artists from the Urals. I am pleased to see that the great Chechen artist, Alexey Kallima, is also on the programme. Lunch is planned at the Panorama restaurant on the 50th floor of the Vysotsky Centre, with the afternoon spent at Biennale satellite shows and city art galleries, with maybe a bilberry waffle at Café Engels (sic) along the way. A final dinner of Russian cuisine awaits at the Troekurov restaurant (right).
The morning sees a visit to now-wooded Ganina Yama (left), ten 10 miles north of Ekaterinburg – the site of the abandoned mineshaft into which the bodies of the Tsar’s family were hurled after their murder in Ekaterinburg in July 1918. After lunch at Barboris in the new Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre (opened 2015) – local boy Boris is revered in Ekaterinburg as nowhere else – and a visit to its on-site art museum, we depart for the airport and a 17:10 flight to Sheremetevo, then a 1 hour 40 turnaround at Terminal D before the 19:25 Aeroflot flight to Heathrow, landing 21:25.
For full details please contact Katya Belaeva: firstname.lastname@example.org