Red Planet

Kate Sutton on openings for the Garage and Gagosian in Moscow


Left: Dealer Larry Gagosian with the Garage founder Daria “Dasha” Zhukova. Right: Artist Anselm Reyle, Gagosian's Victoria Gelfand, artist Piotr Uklanski, and Gagosian's Sam Orlofsky. (Photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)

Last Tuesday, twenty-seven-year-old Daria “Dasha” Zhukova inaugurated her Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow with three projects by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The exhibitions were part of a multisite retrospective funded by Zhukova’s Iris Foundation—as well as by a personal donation from Zhukova’s boyfriend, Roman Abramovich, whose splashy debut in the auction houses last year (where in one week he plunked down nearly $120 million on a Freud and a Bacon) set pulses racing. Easily one of the most coveted invites of the year, the scramble for invitations became even fiercer with the announcement that Larry Gagosian would open his own temporary space in a former candy factory one day later.

Amid crashing economies (and conspiracy theories about the unique timing of the Damien Hirst auction), the top tiers of the art market flocked to Russia’s capital in hopes of rubbing shoulders with the country’s elite. What they found, however, was mostly one another, as a decidedly international crowd filled Moscow’s former factories for three days of openings, receptions, and VIP dinners.

Admittedly, Ilya Kabakov makes an unlikely poster boy for an art-world bacchanalia (despite setting a roughly five-million-dollar auction record last February with his work Beetle). Nevertheless, he was the center of attention last week, with the retrospective marking his first exhibition in Russia after twenty years abroad. Add the Midas touch of Zhukova and Abramovich, Russia’s golden couple (second, perhaps, only to Medvedev and Putin), and suddenly a long-overdue retrospective became the social event of the season. Even as Russian markets made their dramatic midweek dive, the so-called oligarchs appeared unfazed, eager to follow Abramovich’s lead in investing in contemporary art. At the Monday preview of the Kabakovs’ most recent work, The Gates, in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, one famous Russian collector wryly nudged another, only half in jest: “Have you bought anything yet?” Meanwhile, across the room, foreign gallerists congregated over photocopied face books, carrying on whispered debates over “which one’s the oligarch?”

Left: Artist Takashi Murakami. Right: Artist Aaron Young with motorcyclists. (Photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)

While anticipated to be the splashier event, the Tuesday afternoon opening of two projects—An Alternative History of Art and Red Wagon—at the Garage was remarkably sedate, as the crowd wandered reverently through the newly renovated halls of the former Melnikov Garage. Those who could get past the notoriously tight security celebrated in the enormous main hall, sipping champagne and eying the closed-off café section where the chosen few were granted an audience with the Kabakovs, as well as a firsthand glimpse of Zhukova and Abramovich. The truly lucky were granted invitations to a private dinner, hosted by Zhukova and Emilia Kabakova, where a mixed crowd of collectors, scholars, and socialites nibbled on hummus and tried their hand at toasting with vodka (perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, from the look of the few who made it to the next morning’s symposium, huddling over their coffee cups while, onstage, Robert Storr, Boris Groys, and Katya Degot traded takes on the Kabakovs). On Wednesday, the last three of the Kabakovs’ installations opened at the Winzavod Center for Art, a converted wine factory now host to much of the Moscow art world. There visitors could engage with Ilya Kabakov’s Life of a Fly and Game of Tennis in a more intimate setting, as well as pass through the Toilet, an installation in which a public toilet is transformed into an impromptu communal apartment.

The scholarly tone of these exhibitions aside, those who came expecting a party were not disappointed. The events at the Winzavod were immediately followed by the opening of “For What You Are About to Receive,” Gagosian’s second exhibition in Moscow. (The first took place last fall in the posh Barvikha Luxury Village outside of town.) Located in the former Red October Chocolate Factory in the very heart of the city, the exhibition was divided between a sampling of the gallery roster and a condensed history of abstraction (which juxtaposed, for instance, a Jackson Pollock painting with a Takashi Murakami and concluded with six never-before-exhibited works by Cy Twombly). Artists including Murakami, Anselm Reyle, and Piotr Uklanski were on hand for the elite meet-and-greet.

Left: Curator Alison Gingeras and Sarah Hoover. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Serpentine codirector of exhibitions Hans-Ulrich Obrist with Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

A veteran of the 2007 Moscow Biennale, artist Aaron Young was also on the scene, this time to watch over the production of Arc Light, one of his signature motorcycle performances. “Earlier, I would have said red is the color of Moscow,” he waxed. “But now I’d have to say it’s gold.” On arriving at the gallery, flush with works by Jeff Koons, David Smith, Anish Kapoor, Banks Violette, and Reyle, one curator had a similar take: “It’s all so shiny!”

Young’s performance, while certainly spectacular, was somewhat lost on the Moscow crowd, which assumed the motorcyclists to be just one more aspect of the evening’s entertainment, rather than elements of an artwork. As the crowd battled the cold with cocktails (all the while navigating the factory floors in impossibly fabulous footwear), the paparazzi snapped away at particularly photogenic partygoers Yvonne Force Villareal, Natalia Vodianova, Leelee Sobieski, Barbara Bush, and, of course, Zhukova, who never seemed to shake the team of photographers following her every move. Around 2 AM, the party moved from a dinner on the fourth floor of the factory to the trendy Soho Rooms club, where those who still could danced until the wee hours of the morning, while others clumped around the sushi buffet, vainly trying to fend off the inevitable hangover.

By Thursday evening, one could find the dwindling crowds blearily stumbling toward openings for Wim Delvoye (Diehl + Gallery One) and Tony Matelli (Gary Tatintsian). Luckily, the rollicking nature of the works on display seemed to energize attendees. In lieu of alcohol, Tatintsian served grateful patrons much-needed espresso shots, while at Diehl, many visitors opted out on champagne in favor of fruit juice. It seemed that those in the know wanted to rest up for the city’s next big bash: the François Pinault Collection opening at the Garage next February.

Left: Carlos Mota with Art Production Fund cofounder Yvonne Force Villareal. Right: Justin Portman, Natalia Vodianova, and photographer Patrick Demarchelier. (Photos: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)

Left: Collector Jean Pigozzi. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Collector John Stewart with Dmitry Ozerkov, head of the Hermitage Museum's department of contemporary art. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Artist Adam McEwen, dealer Stefania Bortolami, and artist Aaron Young. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Barbara Bush. (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Left: Artist Jessica Craig-Martin. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Oleg Kulik, START Gallery's Anastasia Shavlokhova, and Hermes Zaigott. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Nic Iljine with Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Actress Leelee Sobieski. (Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan)

Left: Artists Ira Korina and Liza Morozova. Right: Winzavod's Nikolai Palashenko and artist Boris Mikhailov. (Photos: Kate Sutton)