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What recession? Moscow’s contemporary art market continues to expand (and even enjoys a night out on the town).

Despite dreary forecasts, the 2008 Art Moscow International proved to be one of the fair’s most promising. In its twelve years, Art Moscow has garnered a reputation for lackluster sales, near impossible negotiations with customs, and an unfortunate aesthetic predilection for politics, pornography, and provocation. Veterans of the fair feared the worst when they heard that this year Art Moscow would be scaling back; only 45 galleries out of 200 applicants were selected to participate (against last year’s 72) and the fair occupied a drastically reduced space within Moscow’s Central House of the Artists.

Whatever doubts they may have had, gallerists and visitors alike were pleased. Artist Rostan Tavasiev, one of the nominees for this year’s Kandinsky Prize, observed that, "There seems to be more confidence in the market." Referring to the fair’s history of sensationalism, he added, "The big galleries aren’t trying to put on a show anymore. They know they have clients. I’m glad to see that the fair is taking itself more seriously."

With 24 out of the participating galleries based in Moscow, the city has evolved past the 5 gallery dynasty of recent years. If anything, the "big galleries" were markedly subdued against the flashier stands of up-and-comers like pARTner Gallery, Paperworks, and GMG. XL Gallery ­ still the only Russian gallery at ArtBasel ­ assembled a strong front of their artists. A particular favorite was Alex Buldakov’s XXX Malevich (2004), in which a suggestive soundtrack and simple animation converted Suprematist compositions into a type of "proun" porn. Aidan Gallery and M & J Guelman Gallery offered up a more or less predictable selection of their stables. Regina Gallery continues to expand its program from its primarily Russian and Ukrainian roster (including Sergei Bratkov and Zhanna Kadyrova), integrating work by Jose Maria Cano and Jonathan Meese (who has previously shown at Gary Tatintsian Gallery). Relative newcomer, Triumph Gallery, having now joined with Yakut Gallery, made a daring choice in presenting twelve artists’ contemporary re-workings of the Pieta. An enamel-plated sculpture from the AES+F "Last Riot" series stood watch over a stunning lacquered and whitewashed canvas by Petersburg painters Ilya Gaponov and Kirill Koteshov, and The Wounds of Christ (2005) by Damien Hirst.

While rampant rumors of Basquiats left some disappointed, visitors were nevertheless pleased to see the quartet of Julian Schnabel paintings hanging at Galerie Forsblom (Helsinki). Split into two stands, the gallery also brought two Bernard Vernet steel sculptures, a wooden bust by Manolo Valdes and a Tony Oursler installation. Another standout among the foreign galleries was Milano’s Pack Gallery, who made a name for itself in Russia with Petersburg artist Petr Belyi. This year Belyi was one of the fair’s biggest sellers, with his metal works rapidly disappearing from both the Marina Gisich Gallery (St Petersburg) and Atelier No.2 (Moscow), who concurrently hosted Belyi’s "White Nights" show, a playful take on the second capital’s summertime ritual of raising the bridges.

If gallerists had marveled at Art Moscow’s mushrooming attendance, no one could have anticipated the response to Doutrart, an all-night festival of open doors at museums and galleries throughout the city, sponsored by Marka:ff. More than 40,000 people passed through Winzavod alone. Visitors crammed into the new RIGroup Multimedia Complex for Actual Arts (MCAA) which featured Barbara Kreuger’s four-screen video installation, Twelve (2007). Curator Olga Sviblova ­ responsible for last year’s Russian Pavilion in Venice ­ provided translations of Kreuger’s scripts, but few visitors needed help decoding the actors’ exaggerated gestures.

The newest addition to Winzavod, the MCAA was conceived and sponsored by Guggenheim board member Janna Bullock. The space is divided into two parts, with the largest hall dedicated to established international artists, and a smaller, second hall set aside for emerging talent. Here one could experience 26­year­old Ilya Trushevsky’s installation Sugar, a saccharine take on the trappings of the so-called "New Russians." Mimicking garishly adorned gardens, Trushevsky planted a pink fluorescent fountain of soap suds in the center of the room. Leading up to the fountain was a walkway of glass bowls, each containing a live turtle sporting a rhinestone­studded shell. The entire room was blanketed with sugar ­ or perhaps salt? The artist would not say for sure, but whatever it was, it left a telling trail.

Winzavod is not the only site benefiting from the city’s enthusiastic appetite for contemporary art. Berlin gallerist Volker Diehl inaugurated his new space, Diehl + Gallery One, with Jenny Holzer’s "Like Truth" (partially funded by Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers, who also supported the Kreuger piece). The show’s centerpiece was Monument (2008), which assembled 22 LED displays of Holzer’s "Truisms" into a column of light, casting multi-hued florescence along the white marble walls. The piece was supplemented by a selection of Holzer’s recent paintings of confidential documents. In their Russian context, the works reveled in their Suprematist leanings.

In the three years since opening in Moscow, Gary Tatintsian has played a pivotal role in introducing audiences to artists like Peter Halley, Stephan Balkenhol and Richard Prince. Tatintsian dedicated his downtown space to a new selection of paintings by George Condo, including a 2007 drawing scrolling the length of one entire hall. Other highly-anticipated exhibitions include Erwin Wurm at the Central House of the Artists and Andreas Gursky at the Ekaterina Art Foundation. On a more somber note, the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art honored Dmitry Prigov, one of the most provocative and influential of the Moscow Conceptualists, who passed away in 2007. His installations, drawings, operas and textual works fill the museum.

Despite all the attention towards contemporary art, the most significant art event of May remains the World Fine Art Fair, which opened May 28 at the Manege. The lavish fair mingles everything from Picasso (including the 1956 stunner, Man and Woman on the Beach, on view at Galerie Taménaga) to the Chagall tapestries at Jane Kahan Gallery (New York) to a cast of Rodin’s Thinker, priced at 2.6 million Euros at Galerie de Bartha ­ de Senarclens. Paris antiques broker B. & B. Steinitz installed an entire room, replete with magnificently paneled walls and wooden fixtures, while the Rudolf Budja Gallery offered up a selection of Warhols (with prices topping off at 3.6 million Euros for Holstentos (1980), part of the artist’s "German Monuments" series). And while they may have been understated at Art Moscow, the "Big 5" in the Moscow contemporary art scene ­ M & J Guelman, Aidan, XL, Regina and now Triumph ­ made quite an impression on fairgoers (as well as some of the first sales of the fair).While in general sales were slow in the first days, gallerists are optimistic. Fair director Matthias Ruethmueller anticipates a crowd of at least 60,000 (nearly double that of Art Moscow) for the weeklong event, a modest estimate if the opening night crowds were any indication. While internationally, the art world may be holding its breath to see what Basel might bring, Moscow’s market appears to be in high spirits.

AES + F’s Last Riot, 2007, on view as part of "Rex Iudaeorum," at the Triumph Gallery stand at Art Moscow.

A visitor tries his hand at a Games of Reason, 2008, a collaboration between Ivan Chickin and the Blue Noses on display at the M & J Guelman Gallery stand.

Galerie Forsblom (Helsinki) brought works including Alice, 2007 by Manolo Valdes and four new paintings by
Julian Schnabel.

An image from Dmitry Vrubel and Victoria Timofeeva, "The New Testament Project," (2007-2008) presented as one of Art Moscow’s Parallel Programs at the Central House of Artists. Image courtesy of M & J Guelman Gallery.

Crowds pack into the M & J Guelman Gallery at Winzavod for the opening of Alexei Kallima’s show "Unnamed Hill," during Doutrart, an all-night festival at museums and galleries.

Ilya Trushevsky’s Sugar, 2008, featured at the new RIGroup Multimedia Complex for the Actual Arts.

Jenny Holzer’s Monument, 2008, the centerpiece of the "Like Truth" exhibition on view at Diehl + Gallery One. Image courtesy of the gallery.

All photographs by Kate Sutton, except where noted.

Market Trends with Full 2007 Data