From the 19th-floor executive lounge of the gleaming new Swissôtel on the ring road in central Moscow, the Russian capital is a peaceful patchwork of greenery and pastel 19th-century architecture.
Down at street level, however, things are considerably busier and browner, the traffic either whizzing endlessly by -- major roads have pedestrian underpasses rather than stoplights -- or crawling along in immense traffic jams. The trip by car from the airport to the center of town takes more than 90 minutes on a weekday, a unheard-of situation for a modern city.
Eleven million people in greater Moscow, the driver told me, and 7,000,000 of them drive downtown every day. The city has a serious emissions-control problem.
For a first-time visitor -- on a much-appreciated junket to Art Moscow, May 17-21, 2006, for instance -- especially a timid first-time visitor, without guide or translator, the local transport options are three, not including walking. Official taxis take you anywhere within the central city for 500 rubles, about $20 (one ruble is worth approximately four cents), a method widely spurned by locals as exorbitantly expensive.
Taking a gypsy cab, on the other hand, involves hailing any random driver, telling him where you want to go and, if a ride is offered, setting a mutually agreed-upon fare, typically 200 rubles or thereabouts. "We don’t recommend taking gypsy cabs," said the Swissôtel concierge, ominously. The sentiment was shared by native art-worlders as well. "Once they hear you don’t speak Russian, they’ll jack up the price."
The third way, so to speak, is Moscow’s storied metro, its vast and bustling chambers ornately architected with grand if now-shabby élan. Plus, it’s cheap -- ca. 15 rubles a ride. For yours truly, the metro provided a modest esthetic epiphany as well.
It goes without saying that Moscow street signs, shop signs and billboards are all written in the Cyrillic alphabet, a script most likely devised at the end of the first millennium to disseminate Byzantine Greek religious texts. Cyrillic has a special beauty and mystery, seeming both utterly strange and yet tantalizingly close to the Roman alphabet. In today’s world, often enough Russian is simply English in a different script, as in advertisements for The Da Vinci Code and eateries like McDonald’s.
So, plunging into the subway, sorting out the names of stations not from the sense of the words but rather by memorizing the shapes of a few initial letters -- like learning to read in kindergarten -- and then riding up the long escalator into a daylight filled with still more bewildering signs is an experience of being cast into a navigational aphasia, as it were.
It was at that point -- what was I looking for? The small apartment where Oleg Kulik was giving a computer presentation of his work? The Museum of Contemporary Art, where a retrospective of works by the artist and dealer Aidan Salakhova was on view? -- that I had an emotional understanding of the series of "Rebus" works made by the Russian artist known as Afrika.
Afrika’s given name is Sergei Bugaev, and the stories as to the origin of his nom d'art are several, including one involving Pushkin, the "Father of the Russian language," and Pushkin’s African great-grandfather, a slave who became a major general in the Russian army and a favorite of Peter the Great. Afrika was born in 1966 and is still resident in St. Petersburg.
He makes artworks in the form of rebuses, typically as large-scale works etched on copper sheets, cryptic but portentous phrases encoded in a puzzle in which words are broken into syllables that are represented by pictures. "The Socialist utopia needs no pop seduction," reads one, or so I am told, a maxim that was clearly mistaken.
To a Baby Boomer American, raised during the Cold War, the crytograph seems an ideal emblem for Russia, a country with traditions of indirection only amplified by 70 years of Soviet doublespeak (not to mention Len Deighton spy novels). What’s more, Moscow is filled with physical Soviet-era landmarks, echoes of a dark, wasted past, from Lenin’s tomb to the Lubyanka KGB headquarters. Afrika’s "Rebus" series, then, encapsulates Russian culture in a way that Pop Art and Minimalism do for the U.S.
The West is certainly no stranger to deception in its commercial and political culture, though references to this kind of thing in New York art seem displaced at best -- think here of "Day for Night," the 2006 Whitney Biennial Exhibition, which reflected a new-found appreciation of an idle, even bookish ambiguity. In Russia, irony has a more pointed political dimension, and characterizes much of the best new work being made there.
Afrika’s celebrity -- the paparazzi at the city’s lively nightclub scene routinely take his picture -- dates back to the beginnings of the perestroika period, when he starred in ASSA, a 1988 film by Sergei Solovyov that was supposedly thrown together to give a host of unemployed Soviet-era artists an official job so they wouldn’t be classified as social parasites. Afrika starred in the movie as a young musician who romanced a mobster’s girl. "Everyone fell in love with him," said Kate Sutton, an expert on Russian contemporary art who is living in St. Petersburg and who was helping the New York gallery I-20 at Art Moscow.
Afrika was on hand at the fair, wryly charismatic and businesslike, networking at the booth of I-20, which represents him in New York -- a fact that prompted dealer Paul Judelson and his team to make the trip to Moscow. "I’ve been to Russia 14 times," he said enthusiastically, "I love the chaos." Judelson had a large Rebus from 1999 in the booth, sheets of copper on a silicone backing, acid-etched with childishly portentous signs, priced at $22,000. A bargain.
I-20 was the only U.S. gallery among the 60 or so dealers with booths at the fair, which was spread out on two floors of the imposing white Central House of Artists in Expo Park. One might note here that most of the booths, when they did have wall labels by their artworks, wrote them only in Cyrillic script.
So, how was Art Moscow? Busy, but largely busy with local visitors. Sales seemed to be good, though buyers tended to be Russian collectors. At Guelman Gallery, which was founded by Marat Guelman in 1990 and is one of the more interesting in Moscow, the gallery’s Natasha Milovzozova estimated that 65 percent of sales went to Russians and 35 percent to Europeans. One interesting thing about the Russian contemporary art market is its brief history -- the commercial gallery scene in Russia dates only to 1990 or so; previously, under the Soviet system, official exhibitions were controlled by the artists’ union.
Generally speaking, the fair was a perfect opportunity to survey the leading edge of Russian contemporary art as represented by galleries like Aidan, Artstrelka Projects, Guelman, Regina, Stella and XL. When it comes to Russian art, two things are immediately apparent: a widespread interest in political content; and the continuing influence of the tradition of academic training in figurative painting.
What’s more, though the Russian art market has plenty of homegrown collectors, the Russian museums are only now beginning to give the kind of support to contemporary art that is commonplace elsewhere in the world. "Russian museums play a negligible role in regulating the art market," said Afrika. "Maybe the new capitalists will take the opportunity," he said, to revitalize the museums as lively public-private organizations like they are in the west. As for Art Moscow, it was sponsored by the galleries, without any outside funding.
In truth, the Moscow scene is quite small, and has a certain collegial quality. The extent of the clubbiness -- and perhaps its tensions -- was demonstrated by a special project for Art Moscow done by the young artist Georgy Ostretsov, who exhibits with Guelman Gallery and is quite the master of a Marvel Comics-style action scenes, which he paints in black and then splatters with color, in what turns out to be a lively combination of Pop and Jackson Pollock.
For Art Moscow, Ostretsov made several mural-sized comic strips on panels and installed them on the walls of the exposition hall stairwells and landings -- but the superheroes in the action-packed, montage-like paintings are local dealers, curators and critics. At the Guelman Gallery booth, a largish painting titled Afterparty (2006) was €15,000, while a freestanding wood sculpture of a hare-headed human with four arms and two pump shotguns, titled Hair the Shooter (2005), was sold for €20,000. "The language of comics, especially ones like these, is still rather alien to Russia," noted Milovzozova.
Of all the booths at Art Moscow, the Guelman Gallery installation perhaps looked the most like one of the high-key galleries at Frieze or the Armory Show. Guelman represents the Blue Noses (Viacheslav Mizin and Alexander Shaburov), who seem to be able to effortlessly find opportunities for comedy in Russian history and society. Among their works is an entire "Kitchen Suprematism" series of color photos of pieces of bread, salami and cheese arranged like early Constructivist paintings -- a slice of Russian black bread standing in for Kasimir Malevich’s 1913 Black Square, for instance -- and Revolutionary Icons (2006), a flat-screen vid showing a Lenin figure stretched out like a crucified Christ with two smaller Stalin figures kneeling before him -- a bit of religious doggerel that can still raise hackles in Russia. The prices were €3,000 for a photo and €4,000 for a DVD, both in an edition of ten.
Guelman also represents the collaborative group AES + F, who made a certain splash several years ago with their photoshopped image of the Statue of Liberty wearing a Muslim veil and holding a copy of the Koran. Since 2005 the group, which consists of Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovitch and Evgeny Svyatsky plus photographer Vladimir Fridkes, has been making a "Last Riot" series, tondos showing children in bloodless battle, posed with swords and other weapons in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The works represent "a mutated sci-fi future where the inhabitants lose their sex and become closer to angels, where all fight against all." The sadistic but seductive c-prints on canvas are $15,000 in editions of 10.
Another big name in the Guelman stable is painter Valery Koshlyakov, who represented Russia at the 2003 Venice Biennale. His specialty is virtuoso figurative paintings done quickly -- lots of drips -- in earth tones on brown corrugated cardboard that is torn and patched together, frequently leaving a residue of material scraps that echoes the crumbling subjects of his paintings. At Guelman was a single canvas from 2006 measuring about 7 x 11 feet and titled Greece -- a painting of ruins, what else?
During the fair Koshlyakov opened a special installation at Fabrika, a former paper warehouse. He turned the large, semi-derelict space into a fading industrial amusement park of both sculptures and paintings done with cardboard and paint -- a bulldozer, a trestle, pictures of a fields, a miniature mountain, piles of waste. The bar at the vernissage was serving chocolates and cognac, which somehow seemed especially Muscovite. Koshlyakov was posing for pictures, and talking to art critics. "The dream of the Russian artist," he said with a bowed head, when asked how long the installation had taken him, "is ‘do it quickly’."
He added something more about longing for the Renaissance and its high artistry, but considering all the cardboard, perhaps he was joking.
Cater-corner from Guelman at Art Moscow was XL, a gallery founded in 1993 by Elena Selina that represents Oleg Kulik, Aidan Salakhov (who also runs Aidan gallery) and the conceptual painting team of Vladimir Dubossarsky & Alexander Vinogradov. The XL booth was dominated by a large color photograph of a slavering bulldog by Oleg Kulik and a pair of swimming-pool paintings by Dubossarsky & Vinogradov.
You have to like Kulik for his energetic engagement with the world, however animalistic, whether in his well-known performances in the 1990s as a post-Soviet dog-man, or in the vids of his more recent travels to distant spots, such as his trip through the Gobi Desert that was featured at the 2005 Venice Biennale. The dog photo, which depicts Kulik’s alter ego at gargantuan scale, lifting his leg on the neo-classical Moscow building that houses the gallery, is priced at a handsome €40,000. The picture is mounted on a horizontal platform made of stools from Ikea. The arrival of the Swedish furniture chain in Russia has had a notable impact on local artists, who perhaps see it as yet another semi-humorous example of capitalism actually doing what socialism only bragged about.
Similarly well known are Dubossarsky & Vinogradov, who have shown with Ursula Krinzinger in Vienna, Vilma Gold in London and Deitch Projects in New York. "I have the two paintings here" -- fairly simple compositions, each with a single mannequin surrealistically floating upright underwater in a pool -- "priced at €30,000 each," said XL gallery director Serge Khripun. Dubossarsky & Vinogradov, who were childhood friends, use a Social Realist style to make works that were unimaginable under Socialism, including a popular series that pushed the notion of the utopian bacchanal to new heights. The duo opened a new exhibition of their paintings, portraying huge ant hives in the woods, at XL’s modest gallery space during Art Moscow.
XL also represents Aidan, the artist, curator, dealer and teacher at the Surikov Art Institute, whose work, as is noted above, was surveyed in an exhibition at the Moscow ICA, organized by Elena Selina, in what is envisioned as the first in a series of retrospectives of works by contemporary artists. The range of Aidan’s artistic output is as eclectic as her professional life, including film and video works, sculpture, drawings and paintings on canvas and even a kind of readymade.
My venture to visit the Moscow ICA went comically astray, landing me at the wrong museum entirely, where I was befriended by another American, a linguistics student from Washington, D.C., wandering the city while her boyfriend was in meetings. We managed to use her superior Rambo Tourist skills to find the proper place, where Aidan’s exhibition was heralded by bright orange banners hung on a dramatically neo-classical structure in soot-darkened stone. Admission to the museum was free, its four floors of galleries watched over by babushkas, the Russian "grandmothers" who seem to have a corner on the museum guard business in Moscow.
Aidan, a fashionable brunette with dark eyes, turns out to be both insider and outsider, a cosmopolitan art professional with provincial Russian roots. Though she was born in Moscow and grew up there, her father is from Baku in Azerbaijan, a Russian province that is both Turkic and Muslim. She is a member of the Russian art elite, as her father is Tair Salakhov (b. 1928), a celebrated member of the Soviet Academy of Arts who during the 1960s advocated the "Severe Style," which posited a forceful neo-realism in distinct contrast to the polished propaganda of official Soviet art.
Thus, a certain personal resonance attends Aidan’s use of academic drawing techniques as well as imagery from Islamic culture. One of the major installations in her show, Qa’Bah (2002), features a large black cube in a darkened room, rigged so that a video of a woman’s eyes look out through an opening, transforming the hard-edged cube into a veiled female face. On the walls are projections of a Sufi dancer spinning. As the deluxe, bilingual catalogue explains, god tends to be highly masculine in many religions, but in Sufism, "god is always the Beloved, always the Feminine."
The exotic image of eyes staring out from a horizontal opening in a veil recurs in drawings and paintings, as do other folk and religious images -- graceful hands in the style of Persian miniatures, for instance, or the image of the minaret, in both paintings and architectonic wall sculptures. "She likes the beauty of veiled women," suggests Khripun. "It’s more about esthetics than religion." In any case, Khripun notes, Aidan’s work embraces Russia’s rich tradition of Orientalism -- Turkish, Persian, Tatar, Uzbek, Tadjik and more.
At the same time, Aidan is widely traveled -- she lived in New York for a period -- and of course operates one of Moscow’s cutting-edge galleries, founded in 1992. This worldliness is at work in Customs Dreams (2006), a series of readymades that reflect the prudery of Middle Eastern culture -- fairly mild girly magazines (like Maxim) that have had their naughty bits blacked out by censors. These magazines are displayed pressed between glass in frames, like oversized scientific slides.
In the late 1990s, Aidan made a series of acrylic-on-canvas paintings -- large-scale drawings, really -- that take a rendering of a young woman in a distinctly classicizing figurative style and put it through its paces, crossing it with a Les Demoiselles-style primitivism, or with contemporary commercial fashion rendering, or putting it in exotic Orientalist costume. These images seem poised on the threshold between academicism and modernity, between old and new Russia, between East and West.
Back at Art Moscow, the Aidan Gallery booth faced the entrance to the second floor of the fair. The first thing people saw when entering the hall was a striking pair of 11-foot-tall photorealist black-and-white male and female nudes, a contemporary Adam and Eve, painted by the 35-year-old artist Victor Kirillov (a Russian who now lives in Brooklyn). The things are amazingly artful, and invite close inspection by the curious -- except that, disconcertingly, the parts of the figures that are at eye level are the private ones. The paintings are $30,000 each.
Inside the booth were several formal busts by Rostan Tavasiev (b. 1976) that look inspired by Winnie-the-Pooh via Dr. Seuss, yet displayed on plinths like classical busts. Made of white fake fur and carefully sewn, the lineup includes a floppy-eared pooch with black eyes and an elderly bunny with pink nose and Chinese wise-man’s beard. "I think the toys are his friends," said Anna Gershberg, who was manning the booth, "and he expresses his attitude to life through them." They were $3,000 each.
During the art fair, Tavasiev also had an opening at the Aidan Gallery space on the third floor of a downtown building that also houses the Regina gallery. Dubbed "Poppycock," the installation consisted of furniture and even decorative paintings that Tavasiev had gotten at Ikea, and then customized with clouds of cotton batting, as if toy rockets (some carrying blue stuffed toy elephants) were taking off from the drawers of sideboards and the surfaces of pictures. The entire installation was purchased by a "Russian collector."
The Aidan Gallery booth also featured a pair of paintings by Oksana Mas, a Ukrainian artist who was born in 1969. Her expressionistic paintings of Odessa street scenes, done in brilliant enamel paints, have something of the élan of the old East Village in New York. They were $12,000 each.
On the other side of the hall was the booth of Regina gallery, opened by Vladimir and Regina Ovcharenko in 1990. "What Vladimir does," explained a Moscow art-world insider who goes by the name of Spider, tongue only partly in his cheek, "is he takes an artist and makes a star of them, he takes them to the next level." Ovcharenko has a substantial stable of artists, many of them unfamiliar to an outsider (though he also shows the German artist Jonathan Meese). Setting the keynote for his booth was a large color photograph from 1997 by Moscow artist Sergey Bratkov, showing three young Russian couples in a very bourgeois living room, drinking a toast with large glasses of German-style beer. It all seems ominously. . . Western.
One eye-catching painting in the booth was by Moscow painter Natasha Struchkova (b. 1968), whose "FutoRussia" series envisions Moscow as a site in a video game. The example here, done in the brightly colored, anamorphic X-Box style, shows several robot creatures within a walled compound, watching the take-off of a rocket that resembles one of the red Kremlin towers. "Space 100% Off," says the banner over the gate. The picture is $30,000. "Works from this series are no problem to sell in Russia," said Ovcharenko.
Ovcharenko also brought an oversized sculpture of a crumpled package of L&M cigarettes crafted from broken ceramic tiles by Jana Kadyrova, a 23-year-old artist from Kiev. The technique has a definitely Old World feel. The work sold for $6,000.
At Art Moscow, Stella Art Gallery -- founded in 2002 by Stella Kay and directed by Vladimir Levashov -- devoted its booth to an installation of paintings by Olga Chernysheva. Displayed on metal easels throughout the open, corner stand, Chernysheva’s soft-focus oils are taken from stills from a Soviet-era film extolling the economic success of socialism, a success that was seen as illusory, then as now. The paintings exemplify a culture-wide process of recasting Russian identity, according to Constantin Bokhorov, a critic and curator who spent the week of the fair conducting a small group of visitors from Hungary and Austria (plus one interloping New York critic) on an extensive tour of artist’s studios. "It’s a very important theme in contemporary Russian art," he said.
Stella also opened a two-person show at its gallery during the fair, a kind of collaborative painting show by two artists, Victor Alimpiev and Anatoly Osmolovsky. Titled "Helen’s Shoulders" after the heroine of War and Peace, whom the artists describe as "covered with lacquer from a thousand glances," the exhibition seeks "the erotic smoothness of the perfect object. . . polished with the public interest."
Alimpiev’s paintings are the closest thing to Color Field that I saw in Moscow, large and simple canvases of pink and mauve, or lavender and gray, suggesting a threshold between near and far. Though abstract, they are vaguely figurative. Alimpiev characterized one form that appeared in all three canvases of a triptych as being like nothing more than a plait of hair. The gallery says, rather irresistibly, that his abstractions "are oozing with the timid, selfless feeling at the absence of the object and the waiting of it."
"I think of them as depicting something growing and ominous," Alimpiev said. "Something huge on the horizon that contains danger."
Osmolovsky, a celebrated political artist during the 1990s, has recently turned to making pop objects, and in "Helen’s Shoulders" he is exhibiting a series of ten aluminum rectangles, covered with cream-colored enamel and propped in a row on a low shelf. Each plate is punched with a pattern of several holes. Titled "Tickets to Heaven," the items, it turns out, are replicas of tram tickets, perforated with special patterns that code the streetcar route and show that the fare has been paid. The works represent a literal conversion into art objects of a former social good, that is, the subsidized fares for pensioners on public transportation, a subsidy that has recently been ended.
Alimpiev’s paintings were priced at $8,000, while Osmolovsky’s works were $5,000 each.
Another artist represented by Stella Art gallery is Kirill Chelushkin, who is known for exquisitely crafted large-scale drawings in charcoal, crayon and other media. Deep black in color and somber in mood, Chelushkin’s drawings show city streets and highways and futuristic structures. He also makes erotic renderings of figures with the floor plans of famous buildings overlaid on their bodies, so that the schemes become whole in the conjoined couples. His works were on view at Art Moscow at Krokin Gallery and Pop/Off/Art, both in Moscow.
During a visit to Chelushkin’s studio -- a vast space in a derelict warehouse -- the artist showed off a new series of sculptures that he was working on, a collection of several thousand small figures, cut from Styrofoam with a hot-wire tool. Piled in a huge, semi-animated pyramid using panes of glass, the figures are part Star Wars, part Cubo-Futurism. Chelushkin calls them "Snow People."
Art Moscow, which was celebrating its tenth anniversary, included several noncommercial projects: "Let Video Be: Russian Video Art, 1996-2006," an impressive survey of the relatively short history of Russian video art; "Re: Forma?" a show of works by students from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Moscow (which is directed by Joseph Backstein, who also directed the first Moscow Biennale in 2005); "Contemporary Art in the Ekaterina Foundation Collection 1996-2006," a special exhibition of works assembled by Catherine and Vladimir Semenihiny; and a series of panels featuring critics, curators and arts administrators.
Though largely a Russian event, Art Moscow did partner with North Rhine-Westphalia, which helped sponsor ten contemporary galleries from the German state, such as Teutloffkultur + Medienprojekte from Bielefeld and Voss Gallery from Düsseldorf. Volker Diehl was there from Berlin; he exhibits the Blue Noses and Aidan, and served on the Art Moscow steering committee as well. The fair also boasted a number of dealers from nearby Vienna, including Ernst Hilger, who shows the photographer Anastasia Khoroshilova, and Charim Galerie, which devoted its booth to an installation of works by Valie Export.
Moscow does draw Ukrainian artists and dealers, too, and L-Art gallery from Kiev, which was founded by Lyudmyla Berenznytska and is currently run by her son, Evgeny Bereznitsky, featured in its small booth a large painting of chimps dressed as politicians by Ilya Chitchkan, a 37-year-old Ukrainian artist who is originally from Kiev but now lives in Berlin. Titled The New Government (2006), the work would seem to have an admirable malleability in terms of meaning -- that is, it mocks any and all government officials.
Chitchkan has made something of an enterprise of this sort of image, painting chimp popes, chimp monks and even a chimp Arafat, which drew a protest from the Palestinian embassy in Moscow when it was exhibited last November. The New Government, which is more than 13 feet wide, was priced at €14,000. Chichkan, who has showed at L-Art several times, has a new show at the gallery in Kiev now.
The gallery is fairly well known in Kiev for specializing in Soviet-era art. Lyudmyla Berenznytska formed a collection of some 650 works of Ukrainian Soviet art following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and published it in a book titled From Red to Yellow and Blue. This year was the first for the gallery at Art Moscow.
Also on hand was Orel Art from Paris, started four years ago by the statuesque Ilona Orel, who exhibits some of the top Russian artists at her gallery on Rue Quincampoix near Boulevard de Sébastopol -- Dubossarsky & Vinogradov, Komar & Melamid, Valery Koshlyakov, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, Aidan. One of the works in the booth was Koshlyakov’s Red Square (2006). The price: $32,000. "His work is very much in demand by museums," said Orel, whose clientele hails from Moscow, London and Paris. The 42-year-old Koshlyakov actually lives in Paris, Orel said, though he keeps a studio in Moscow.
Buyers at Orel Art’s booth were also snapping up works by Dasha Fursey, a young artist from St. Petersburg whose small drawings and paintings on canvas feature the Lolita-like adventures of a Young Pioneer, who is Fursey’s own alter ego. In the manner of a post-Soviet Alice in Wonderland, the Young Pioneer is seen taking a bite out of a huge mushroom holding the Kremlin on its cap -- "She’s eating in 70 years the mushroom of the Russian revolution," exclaimed Fursey -- or giving uncle Ché a flirty kiss. The price range was $1,000 to $3,000.
As might be expected within a global but nevertheless intensely nationalist art market, the Moscow art scene includes several artists working in contemporary modes that parallel those in use elsewhere. Very popular is Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, an extravagant talent who is known for his role-playing, often in drag, in videos and photographs. He shows at XL Gallery.
Avdey Ter-Oganyan (b. 1961) is Russia’s answer to appropriation art, with cabinet-sized paintings apparently done from textbook illustrations of classic Jackson Pollock works at the Guelman Gallery booth, and a copy of Pablo Picasso’s Sitting Woman (1951) at the booth of ArtStrelka Projects. The pseudo-Picasso has a winning touch: its caption is in Cyrillic lettering, making the painting immediately intercultural, and well worth its $10,000 price tag.
A Russian artist living in Berlin, Ter-Oganyan had to leave his native country in 1998 after an art performance suggesting that the public destroy icons landed him on the losing end of a court lawsuit. His appropriations run a broad range, including pseudo-Constructivist paintings (one titled This Work Calls for the Dismantling of the Russian Federation) and pseudo-Lichtenstein cartoon paintings with the comments in the word and thought balloons given an added twist (such as using the expletive, "Ass Hole").
ArtStrelka Projects, which was founded in 2004 by Vladimir Dubossarsky and Olga Lopukhova, has its own "cultural center" in a converted warehouse complex on the end of an island in the Moscow River, across a causeway from the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer (the impressive Orthodox church that was destroyed by Stalin in 1931 and rebuilt by Boris Yeltsin beginning in 1995). Perhaps ten different galleries and artist groups have spaces at the cultural center, though the space may be more of a draw for its party atmosphere and rock performances -- during Art Moscow, the "special guest" was advertised as the "cult Russian rock group" named Srednerusskaya Volvyshennost.
Art Moscow had its own exhibitionistic set piece, too, artist Anata Dasa’s large glass show window, mounted in the wall by and sponsored by Elena Vrublevskaya Gallery from Moscow. Titled Happy Hour, Girls in Red Swimming Suits Looked at Me Very Strangely, the performance piece consisted of seven young women sitting in folding chairs in the window, staring out at the audience with gazes that, if not hostile, had a certain criticality, if only from boredom.
The fair’s aisles were also haunted by an amiable performance artist named Alexander Petrelli, who hails from Odessa but lives in Moscow. He wears a long overcoat, which he opens conspiratorially to show the small paintings pinned to the lining. It’s his Gallery Overcoat. "The show changes every day!" he said. Price is $300, "Or $150 if you recognize the lips!" In this case, identifying Marilyn’s lips was no trouble.