The art-market in Russia has seen its ups and downs. Insufficiently developed infrastructure is one of the reasons. Political and economic instability is another. However Cosmoscow is the only art-fair that has managed to survive the turbulence of the economic crisis and political challenges with no funding from the state.
“Is this your first time at the Cosmoscow”, I ask each gallerist whose booth is set at the Cosmoscow art-fair in the centre of the Russian capital. “No, it is my third time”, most of them answer me. “What do you think of it?” I continue. “It is great!” they all reply sincerely. And then add: “But it is the only one, isn’t it?”
Cosmoscow is indeed the only art-fair that focuses solely on the contemporary Russian art scene. This year it marks its 5th anniversary with a record number of galleries – from 34 in the first year there are now 54 participants with almost half of them coming from the US, Europe and Middle East.
The art-market in Russia has seen its ups and downs. Insufficiently developed infrastructure is one of the reasons. Political and economic instability is another. However Cosmoscow is the only art-fair that has managed to survive the turbulence of the economic crisis and political challenges with no funding from the state. Its founder, Margarita Pushkina, a collector herself, is an enormously pleasant interviewee. She explains that bringing together Russian and world art is one of the goals of the art-fair. Supporting Russian artists is another one. This year the regular Off White auction, which is included in the non-commercial part of the agenda, will send all money from the sale of 17 paintings to the Cosmoscow fund, that supports young Russian artists.
“The quality is getting better and better”, says Andre Rogger, Head of Credit Suisse art collection, who assured me that there is at least one wall in the Moscow office of the bank reserved for a purchase yet to be made at the fair.
“When you go to Frieze or FIAC, it is not definitely French or British” he adds. “But here it is Russian, and in the same time it has links with the outside world. For me personally it is interesting to see the Russian art”.
Contemporary Russian art is sometimes trying too hard to remind of the post-Soviet images. It makes it different from other art, but appeals to very limited audience. The demand for that art has already passed, agree most people I have talked to at the fair. The works that are exhibited at the fair are not focused at any political statements.
However, the exterior wall of one booth shows a freshly drawn portrait of Kiryll Serebrennikov, a famous Russian theatre director who is now under home arrest after he was accused of embezzling state funds. The painting is a part of a flashmob “My friend Kiryll” organized for Serebrennikov’s birthday.
Most collectors who would come to the fair are local, says Tea Kursua, a specialist from Phillips auction house. Some of them would buy art for the first time to decorate the house, while others will meet the gallerist and visit him later to purchase a work that has not been exhibited at the fair, tells me another gallerist. For example, at the fair 11.12 gallery sells works that cost a few thousand euros. While Rinat Voligamsi’s, also represented by this gallery, oil paintings would feature ten times more though none of them was brought to the fair.
“I don’t know who owns my works, but I was assured they are among very good work”, says Vladimir Sulyagin, a Russian artist, whose works represent a French 55 Belle Chasse gallery. His bright oil canvas with a church and Kremlin hangs among works of French, American, Senegalian, Polish and South African artists. I would have never thought he was Russian, and even failed to recognize a typical Moscow landmark – the Kremlin and the orthodox church.
“In Europe people tell me my works are so Russian, while in Russia they say there is nothing Russian in them”, he laughs. His work “The square” hangs against a big canvas by Pascal Vochelet who hides grey colors behind pink ones, says Sulyagin. “I do the opposite – I hide pink behind grey”, he explains as we stand in from of his painting. It was made a few years before the collapse of the USSR.
Most of the works are paintings, though some galleries brought sculptures and installations. Orekhov gallery shows a large work from stainless steel, “Agatha” which is a large replica of a children’s toy – a doll which consists of several balls, and which never falls. It is easy to see how the artist (Gregory Orekhov) got inspired by Jeff Koons.
Another artist – Ariadne Arendt – used the whole wall of Roza Azora gallery for her work “A flea market”. A dozen of pictures and various ceramic fleas of all sizes hang across a series of ink prints by Ivan Yazikov. His works are almost fastidious workmanship – the series “Book of letters” will keep the viewer glued for a long time.
Text and photos by Ekaterina Drobinina.
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