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by Serge Khripoun
|May was an art month here in Moscow, more than ever. The international art fair Art Moscow was held for the fourth time since 1996 (opened annually with the exception of 1999), May 16-21. It's quite small compared to Art Messe in Berlin or Art Chicago, though it aims to keep up to an international level of quality and deals only with contemporary art.
This year Art Moscow hosted 20 galleries and art dealers from Russia and Europe, including the leading Moscow galleries Aidan, Guelman and XL, Christian Nagel from Cologne, Rudolf Kicken and Volker Diehl from Berlin and Knoll from Vienna. Organized by Expo Park, the fair was supported with an extensive non-commercial program -- several exhibitions, lectures and seminars. Russian and international curators and art journalists joined to discuss the current situation in European art and Russia's place in the international context. Bart de Baere, curator at Ghent's SMAK museum, concluded that there's an important momentum for Russian art to challenge its current position on the periphery of Europe.
Naturally, the Russian art fair presented local contemporary art -- photography, painting, installations, video, objects and more by dozens of artists, including Oleg Kulik, Boris Mikhailov, Timur Novikov, Alexander Brodsky and Igor Makarevich. European dealers brought works by Tony Cragg (at Knoll), Robert Mapplethorpe, Jerome Peter Witkin (at Kicken) and the Danish "Kill the Bitch" anger artist Kristian Hornsleth (at Diehl).
Some regional and ex-Soviet galleries also had good booths, including Arka gallery from Vladivostok with photography and Look gallery from Kazakhstan with nomad video. Arka sold a series of photos by Mikhail Pavin to the Moscow Museum of Photography for an undisclosed sum.
Exhibitions around the fair pavilion played part of the educational environment for the public. The British Council brought a "Landscape" show with a roster of artists including Mat Collishaw, Julian Opie, Wolfgang Tilmans, Peter Doig and Rachel Lowe. "Sensation" participants Langlands & Bell had their own show of sculpture and architecture, small yet brilliant. Another show, "Deutsche Kunst in Moskau," featured works by Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Rosemarie Trockel and others. And a group of Russian Conceptual artists presented a big survey featuring a decade of activity.
Most of the dealers were skeptical about the fair's commercial success: Russia's middle class still hasn't recovered after the 1998 economic crisis. But reality exceeded all expectations. I haven't seen that much public at any contemporary art event for a long time. And there were buyers! Among various seminars one was devoted to local private collectors, who met for the first time together. Not only did they meet each other and socialize but they also could boast some good acquisitions.
By now there's a dozen Russian collectors of contemporary art (compared to hundreds of those who collect classical 19th-century Russian painting), and they are getting serious. An owner of a fitness club chain, for instance, bought several things, including a Mapplethorpe gelatin silver print, Lysa Lyon, from Kicken (I heard the sum paid was about $14,000).
The state and municipal institutions have shown unexpected interest in acquiring artworks for museums and public collections. The Ministry of Culture paid $11,500 for 16 works that will go to regional museums (from Siberia, Dagestan and the Far East). This move was partially financed by the Regional Art Projects Support foundation, the Expo Park affiliate.
The recently opened Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art has spent more money than anyone else at this fair. Its biggest purchase in terms of size was also the most expensive -- $30,000 for an installation by Alexander Brodsky at Guelman Gallery, consisting of a dozen clay objects resembling decaying pots. Other works were acquired from Aidan, XL and N Gallery, which is located in Tbilisi, Georgia. The total reached around $10,000.
According to fair organizers, total sales at Art Moscow 2000 reached $130,000. Of course this sum doesn't come even close to a single day's results at any of the other major art fairs. But the Russian art world is pleased with the figure all the same. The previous Art Moscow, held in the prosperous spring of 1998, only sold a total of $62,000, and was considered very successful.
So, Y2K shows to be a happy season for Russian contemporary art, with growing public interest and collectors' appetites. I hope the time is coming now for American dealers and buyers to check out their 2001 schedules and put aside some cash. See you soon -- in Moscow.
SERGE KHRIPOUN is a Moscow journalist.