Art Moscow fair spotlights young female artists
Moscow’s longest running art fair brings together both classical and contemporary art. This year, there are also several booths funded by the Moscow city government, where young artists are representing themselves.
Art Moscow (Art Moskva), once Russia’s leading contemporary art fair, has a convoluted history echoing the history of Russia itself. Launched in the late 90s during years of relative political and artistic freedom, it once hosted an extensive non-commercial parallel program and radical performances. In 2014 it was closed down and a re-launch had been planned in 2020. This comeback was delayed by a year because of the pandemic but, surviving changes in both venue and format, it is now taking place in the historical Gostiny Dvor exhibition hall near Red Square. It also merged with the Antique Salon, run by the same organizer. This, its 20th iteration, is open to the public from 19th to 23rd April 2023. There are antiques, classical art, jewellery, contemporary art and design on display across some 150 galleries. There is even a dash of international flair with a small booth featuring Nigerian contemporary art, hosted by their embassy.
The fair starts with the antique galleries, so en route to the contemporary section you may pass one or two paintings by Aivazovsky. This year Vladey, Moscow’s dynamic auction house and gallery, has a foot in two camps, showing both classical and contemporary art, the former represented by Russian icons from the renowned collection of the late rock musician Alexander Lipnitsky which Vladey will sell by auction this summer. Their contemporary booth is the largest in the fair, and there they are showing a small work by St. Petersburg neo-academist Georgy Guryanov (1961–2013), which is also the top lot of Art Moscow's contemporary section, offered for sale at Euros 125,000. Pavel Pepperstein's (b.1966) intricate drawings illustrating Alice in Wonderland are offered at Euros 4,000 each, while colourful assemblages by young artist Dimitri Shabalin (b.1993) who creates phantasmagoric masks from small toys and household objects are selling for between Euros 3,700 and 5,500.
Many exhibitors are now quoting their prices only in Russian roubles, ostensibly tempting collectors to part with national currency that is swiftly losing its value. The rouble rate has plummeted over 20% during the last three months, with the official rate reaching 81,85 roubles per dollar. A selection of objects and graphic works by Leonid Tishkov (b.1953) are on view at the booth of the ArtZip online gallery. Individual drawings from his whimsical Dabloid series of the 1990s were offered at 110,000 roubles (approx. $1,350), and the newer Garcia Lorca's Moon series for just 85,000 roubles (approx $1,000). You could even invite this established artist to your home to install a light object called ‘Garcia Lorca's Moon’ for 540,000 roubles (approx $6,700). GrosArt Gallery has priced big graphic signature still-life works by Nina Kotel (b.1949), modestly, at 80,000 roubles (approx $988).
The Vellum Gallery has for sale a Vladimir Weisberg (1924–1985) ‘white-on-white’ still-life at 6,500,000 roubles (approx. $80,000). It waits for its future owner quietly in the corner of the booth, overshadowed by colourful, artist-designed rugs from Choutko Atelier. The rarest and oldest piece on sale, dating to the 1960s, is by Soviet textile artist Albina Voronkova (b.1937) and is more expensive than the Weisberg at 6,890,000 roubles (approx. $85,000). Kirill Danelia (b. 1968), an artist and well-known dealer in ancient Eastern sculpture has broadened his scope, selling non-conformist art from his family collection along with his own wooden assemblages. A painting by Oscar Rabin (1928–2018), dating from his Paris period, has the price tag of 5,000,000 roubles (approx. $62,000).
There are fifteen booths with dedicated solo presentations of young artists, chosen via an open call, occupying a special section of the fair, which has been funded by the Agency for Creative Industries, a brainchild of the Moscow city government. All the artists are alumni of this agency’s educational program called ‘Art. Praktikum’ where they were trained to navigate the Russian art market. It is worth noting that all of these artists, with the exception of one, are female. Despite their training in market knowhow, some of them seemed uncomfortable talking about the prices of their work. One participant, Alexandra Ten, confessed, “"Artists have a difficult time selling their work by themselves, since most of us lack the necessary special skills to do it well”
This year, most of the familiar and long-established galleries in the domestic Russian market were missing from the fair. XL Gallery, pop/off/art, Krokin, Triumph, Gisich, Anna Nova and other heavyweights were all remarkable for their absence. The Association of Galleries (AGA) which unites twenty-five top art dealers from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Vladivostok all decided to boycott the fair in protest of the raised booth prices. The only AGA member to take part inspite of this was Elena Kuprina the founder of E.K.ArtBureau. “The Association tried to negotiate, but without success”, said Mikhail Agroskin who owns Moscow's Vostochnaya Gallery, another member of AGA. “The market has not changed for the better since last year, so why should we pay more?”. AGA even launched its own fair, whose first small edition took place in December at the Vinzavod art centre in Moscow. Its as yet unnamed big summer fair will open in June at the premises of the Moscow Museum. Then, ‘Contour’ a new fair dedicated to graphic art opening in Nizhny Novgorod at the end of May, and ‘1703’ a fair funded by Gazprom returning to St.Petersburg in June, it seems there will be no shortage of art fairs in Russia this year. Whether there will be enough collectors who did not leave the country and prefer contemporary art over Aivazovsky, is another question.
19–23 April, 2023