Since the fall of the Soviet Union in Russia, contemporary art has grown but is still relatively underappreciated. Here we look at the Moscow galleries and shows pushing it forward
Compared to the rest of the world, contemporary art in Russia is a young movement. Typically defined as the period from the 1950s to the modern day, under Soviet rule (1922 – 1991), most Russian art created during this time can be classified as Socialist Realism. Particularly under Stalin, creativity was quashed – creatives were exiled, imprisoned, killed or disowned their craft for more traditional work. Although the control was relaxed after his death, because of this gap there is a disconnect with how contemporary art is interacted with and appreciated, particularly by the country’s older generation. That said, there are a plethora of galleries and museums thriving within the new world, dedicated to spreading the importance of contemporary art around the country. Below, we look at some of the most progressive Moscow-based spaces, alongside the must-see shows this summer.
GARAGE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Founded in 2008, for six years Garage Museum was something of a nomad, putting on shows around the city until in 2014, it secured its roots on the former site of a post-Soviet restaurant. Known as "the first philanthropic institution in Russia to create a comprehensive public mandate for contemporary art”, Garage is currently playing host to Urs Fischer’s Small Axe. Featuring Fischer's bronze and wax work, as well as his digital paintings, the exhibition highlights the artist’s knack for humour within his work and asks us to look no deeper than pure enjoyment of each piece. Outside, Fischer has also set up a giant clay play area, as such, that invites visitors to craft their own artworks. Inside, you’ll also be greeted by Rashid Johnson’s Within Our Gates – which offers visitors "a maze-like environment for the senses”.
WINZAVOD CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
Young Blood, curated by Triumph Gallery and hosted at WINZAVOD Centre for Contemporary Art, explores the aforementioned disconnect between old and new art by asking “whether (contemporary art) needs to be considered separately from art that is a little, well, older”.
MOSCOW INTERNATIONAL BIENNALE FOR YOUNG ART
Currently on show until August is the fifth edition of the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art. Featuring 87 artists and artist duos from 36 countries, all under the age of 35 – as are the Biennale’s curators. The aim of the programme is to continue pushing and celebrating the work of contemporary artists through Russian culture and explores the uncertainty of the 21st century in regards to economic and ecological problems, as well as new technologies and social instabilities.
Standout work comes from Dima Rebus, who has taken over one of the external walls of the Trekhgornaya Manufaktura to introduce street art to the Biennale – a relatively unexplored area of art given it was illegal during Soviet rule. Rebus reimagines the building as a pre-packaged meat product, wrapped, dated and convenient, and by doing so, he questions street art’s place in an institution; and makes a lighthearted jab at its inclusion by handing it to the consumer as something easily digestible.
Whether you're at the Biennale or wandering down Tverskoy Boulevard, make sure to pay a visit to Artwin Gallery. Alongside Rebus, the Biennale sees filmmaker Polina Kanis’s short film Shift – in which Kanis explores the tensions between routine, spaces, and sexuality. In the Gallery itself, Kazakstan artist Gulnur Mukazhanova presents her first solo exhibition, Postnomadic Reality, whereby she explores locations that play into her identity, Central Asia and Europe, through the use of felt – a signature in her work. The exhibition also features a series of photographs that explore identity through an identical mask, placed over the faces of people from varying regions around the world to show that our surroundings are as central to our sense of self as our own faces are.
The Moscow output of the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum is currently playing host to ten artists from nine countries. Joining forces for house-place-salon-outskirts-museum-america, an exhibition by the students of the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia, the Institute of Contemporary Art (Moscow), and Baza Institute to look at the function or art today, which they describe, “instead of reflecting reality, casts doubt on it”.
FABRIKA CENTRE FOR CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
How much of what we read do we question, and how much of what we read do we take as fact? A fascinating subject within media studies and art and something that artist and Glasgow School of Art alumni Anna Titova, alongside Stanislav Shuripa, explore in their project the Agency of Singular Investigations (ASI). Taking images and texts found online, the duo construct fictional narratives and archives that are presented as fact and archival material. Previous shows have presented ‘investigations’ about a meteorite that wiped out Moscow, but their current show, Dark Matter, looks at how “fear has not only become an emotion associated with the 20th and 21st centuries, but is also a powerful force in the era of apparent historical optimism”.