DA!MOSCOW: is competition ever welcome?
The launch this May of DA!MOSCOW, a second Moscow art fair to rival the well-established Cosmoscow event in September has raised eyebrows in the local art world. The arrival of a competitor should signal that the idea is worth the risk.
The initiative by Moscow auctioneer and gallery-owner Vladimir Ovcharenko is bold and refreshing, but some question whether the local market is big enough to support two such events a year. Unlike Cosmoscow, the upstart DA!MOSCOW did not attract any Western art galleries. However, the Russian capital’s most prestigious galleries did answer the call, whereas several important ones tend not to exhibit at its Cosmoscow rival.
The focus at the opening was on Russian contemporary art. In addition to what the galleries were exhibiting, Ovcharenko also used the event’s glamorous opening to display works from his personal collection that he is ready to sell. The catch is that Ovcharenko’s collection is on sale as a single lot. So far, no buyer seems to have stepped forward.
The exhibits on show at DA!MOSCOW range from a very powerful work by Valery Koshlyakov (b. 1962), showing a skyscraper turning to ruins, to a surprisingly slapdash series of nearby sketches by Dmitry Gutov (b. 1960).
Moscow's Art4 boldly juxtaposed fabric collages of the late St.Petersburg great Timur Novikov and works by a male model-turned-artist, the elfin-faced Danila Poliakov. At the show, the red-haired Danila himself was sitting on the floor mid-booth, sewing laboriously. On Art4’s outer wall hung a jaw-dropping selection of museum-quality works by the prominent 1960s painter Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, famous for his metaphysical still-lifes.
The only foreign guest at the fair was the Aspan Gallery from Almaty in Kazakhstan. Its exquisitely curated booth featured selection of Kazakh artists' works in different techniques, including a playful photo-dyptich by Elena and Viktor Vorobiev, whose works were included in the main project of the Venice Biennale in 2015.
A veteran of the St. Petersburg art scene, Didi Gallery brought rare works by prominent Russian non-conformist painters. Among them was Mikhail Shvartsman (1926-1997), known for his enigmatic works that he called "hieratures," as well as Yevgeny Mikhnov-Voitenko (1932-1988), who experimented with dripping techniques to create abstract paintings as early as the 1950s. His 1959 was on sale for 150,000€, probably the most expensive painting at the fair.
Another eye-catching project was a brutal version of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which was ravaged by fire in mid-April. This architectural construction, conceived by the St. Petersburg artist Nestor Engelke, was made of rough planks. It evoked scaffolding and turned itself into a gallery exhibiting the works of other artists. The wooden cathedral was part of the collection that Ovcharenko was putting on sale.
At the other end of the scale was a minimalist project at the pop-up “Shkola” (School) gallery. Amongst the objects on display were spent cartridges turned into toys, angels, cups and even miniature camels by an art group called Gorod Ustinov.