London Bridges

Moscow
02.27.09

Left: Curator Olga Sviblova and Baibakov Art Projects founder Maria Baibakova. Right: Artist Eloise Fornieles. (Photos: Vladimir Gorbel)


“DO THEY REALIZE they’re posing with an asshole?” My friend interrupted our conversation to point out two socialites smiling for a photographer as they stood in front of Margarita Gluzberg’s Pinstriptism, a semiabstract rear view of a figure in a deep bow. (“It’s the ass of the financial crisis,” the artist later told me.) I had flown to Moscow at the invitation of Baibakov Art Projects to attend the private view of “Natural Wonders: New Art from London” and was not surprised to find the VIPs more interested in one another than in the works of the twenty-two young British artists on display. Any artwork on a well-lit, vertical surface dissolved into a backdrop for the paparazzi. The atmosphere epitomized the aggressive glamour that has become a cliché of Russianness to rival the kerchiefed babushka. “I feel like I’ve bought the T-shirt,” quipped a visiting Brit.

Baibakov Art Projects founder Maria Baibakova presided regally over the space’s second opening, a gold Fendi dress and a pair of bodyguards lending her an air of power well beyond her twenty-three years. Baibakova is not the first beautiful Russian to initiate an exhibition program with funding from her favorite billionaire. (In this case, it’s not a husband or boyfriend but her father, forty-one-year old Oleg Baibakov, who has held top management positions in mining and development companies.) But she is the youngest and, paradoxically, the most qualified. Years before Baibakov Art Projects opened last December with a show of new commissions from young Russian artists, Baibakova worked at a Chelsea gallery while earning a BA in art history at Barnard. Shortly after getting her master’s at Courtauld Art Institute last spring, she made her curatorial debut, an exhibition of Russian and Central Asian art at Paradise Row gallery in London. “Natural Wonders” is something of a payback: Baibakova and her American staff curator, Kate Sutton, organized the exhibition in collaboration with Paradise Row owner Nick Hackworth, and about half the artists were drawn from his gallery’s roster.

Left: Oleg Baibakov. Right: Artists Oleg Kulik and Hermes. (Photos: Brian Droitcour)


The works on view were mostly big and theatrical, two qualities exaggerated by Katya Bochavar’s dynamic exhibition design. Hackworth professed a taste for the “baroque,” adding that Baibakova urged him to focus on works that would make a splash in Russia. (She might have been anticipating the moment when a culture reporter for national television pointed to a Dumpster and asked if it was a work of art.) Shezad Dawood’s Feature was a shoot-’em-up, eat-’em-up, cowboys-and-zombies movie screened behind a saloon facade with coyote pelts draped on the railing. A performance conceived by David Birkin (nephew of actress Jane) required a pianist to attach light-emitting diodes to his fingertips and play Ives’s daunting Concord sonata on the mute keys of an upright piano with its strings ripped out and tied in a knot. The odd duck was Ryan Gander’s Man on a Bridge, serial takes of a man peering over the edge of a highway overpass. Guests found its pavement tones and traffic noise underwhelming, and most of the ones who made it to the back corner where the projection was tucked didn’t remain longer than a few seconds.

Baibakov Art Projects occupies a space that once housed the production lines for hard candies and sticky fillings at the Red October chocolate factory. It’s a sweet location, right on the Moskva River, with a sidelong view of the Kremlin and a more direct one of the hulking, gold-and-white Church of Christ the Savior, a decade-old copy of a nineteenth-century cathedral demolished by the Bolsheviks in 1931, now Russia’s most prestigious place to pray. Red October’s owner plans to turn it into luxury condos at some point but meanwhile has given it over to art. Gagosian Gallery christened the former factory as an exhibition space with a temporary showroom last fall. The American gallery made renovations as a gift of sorts to Baibakova, who used her family clout and native intuition to navigate the Byzantine rituals of a big-time Moscow real estate deal.

Left: Artist Shezad Dawood. (Photo: Brian Droitcour) Right: Artist David Birkin and pianist. (Photo: Ilya Devin)


The close partnership between the nonprofit Baibakov Art Projects and a commercial gallery like Gagosian (or Paradise Row, for that matter) might raise eyebrows in the West, but the distinction isn’t considered important here, given Russia’s nascent art infrastructure. Baibakova declined to comment on her own plans for the future. Russia is unpredictable; even a lease is no sure thing. Moscow Biennale commissar Joseph Backstein wants to use Red October for a satellite show at the third edition of his brainchild, scheduled for September, and he’s been going over Baibakova’s head to negotiate his own terms with the owner. An artist told me about a recent trip to Baibakov Art Projects when he witnessed Backstein slip in and wordlessly take a measuring tape to the doors.

Everything felt a little uncertain in Moscow last week, as oil dipped below forty dollars a barrel and the ruble continued its steady decline. Art Moscow, the city’s major contemporary art fair, was postponed from May to September to piggyback on the state-sponsored biennial, and there were protests against the proposed demolition of the fair’s traditional venue, the hideous Central House of Artists. But Russians are stoic. After all, they just had a major economic crisis in 1998, and they remember the everyday deprivations of Soviet life. Perhaps that’s why the audience had a hard time digesting the idea of repenting for consumption, the central conceit of Eloise Fornieles’s performance, Carrion. Throughout the four hours of the opening, the artist stood amid a mound of clothes (two tons, bought by the kilogram) as she executed a cycle of ritual acts: donning outfits, stripping to nudity, stabbing a strung-up calf, and stuffing the slits with notes of repentance submitted by the audience. I think most guests saw the performance as pure spectacle. (“This would have been better if they got a supermodel to do it,” said one well-dressed gentleman.) No one seemed apologetic about consuming; in fact, more than one person I talked to thought it was Baibakova who should apologize for an open bar where glasses of fruit juice and water outnumbered champagne flutes two to one. Besides, there was still an afterparty to come, and a public opening the next day, followed by more afterparties, and a state holiday on Monday that meant a three-day weekend for a bender of parties and feasts. Penance can wait until there are fewer opportunities to consume.

Brian Droitcour

Left: Paradise Row owner Nick Hackworth. (Photo: Ilya Devin) Right: Overcoat Gallery (aka Alexander Petrelli). (Photo: Brian Droitcour)


Left: Artist Margarita Gluzberg. (Photo: Ilya Devin) Right: Artist Evgeny Svyatsky of AES+F. (Photo: Brian Droitcour)


Left: Artist Andrei Bartenev. Right: Dealer Amanda Wilkinson. (Photos: Brian Droitcour)


Left: Dealer Gary Tatintsian and Triumph Gallery director Dmitry Khankin. (Photo: Ilya Devin) Right: Artist Douglas White. (Photo: Brian Droitcour)


Left: Katya Vinokurova, Moscow representative for Haunch of Venison. (Photo: Ilya Devin) Right: Artist Vladimir Fridkes of AES+F. (Photo: Brian Droitcour)