Contemporary art in Russia is no longer the reserve of billionaire collectors

Russia has become a growing and flourishing contemporary art market. Ultra-rich Russians are famously known as big collectors of the latest pieces, but the opening of new venues also makes art available to all. Moscow, if not all of Russia, is witnessing a process that is democratizing contemporary art, which now seems to be everyone’s business. Centers for contemporary art and museums are launching different cultural projects for the public all over the country.
The Russian art market is usually associated with oligarchs, such as billionaire Roman Abramovich and celebrity collectors. The record breaking prices of the most noteworthy contemporary art pieces are more widely known than the numbers of annual visitors to contemporary art centres and museums.
However, in Moscow, the relatively recent creation of new art venues developing broad activities for adults and children, is also painting a new landscape for the art world. The Center for Contemporary Art “Garage”, is a non-profit cultural institution that opened in 2008 and carries out various projects such as the Moscow Biennale, exhibitions, cinema shows and educational programs.
Similarly the Centre for Contemporary Art “Winzavod” opened in 2007 in a building where wine was once made. It offers a variety of educational initiatives and exhibitions, as well as special activities such as “Start” and “Design territory”, projects that aim to support young artists and designers. Both organisations target a mass audience.
Moscow is thus in the process of becoming a world capital for contemporary art, like London or New York. But Elena Panteleeva, director of ‘Winzavod’, told the ‘Voice of Russia’ that there is still a long way to go: “With its number of galleries and artists, Moscow is difficult to compare with New York, London or Berlin. But I haven’t the feeling that we are at the periphery. Indications of art activity are all increasing.”
There are quite dynamic bodies for contemporary art in Moscow, and Director of the “Garage” Centre, Anton Belov believes that even if their total number is, for now, low compared to Europe’s capital cities, within 3 to 5 years, or maybe up to 10, Moscow will be an international centre for contemporary art.
Meanwhile some of Russia’s regional cities are falling in line right behind Moscow. As Elena Panteleeva told us: “This is confirmed, for example, by the museum PERMM [Perm Museum of Contemporary Art -], whose founder Gelman became the ideologue and pioneer of a regional development movement. The Industrial Biennale in Yekaterinburg also confirms the growing regional interest in contemporary art. Recently, as a part of the project ‘START’, supporting young artists, Winzavod organized exhibitions and workshops in cities such as Astrakhan, Perm, Yekaterinburg, Samara, and Krasnoyarsk. And our photo project, ‘BEST of RUSSIA’, went on tour through half the country.”
Even if contemporary art is often considered elitist and only for connoisseurs, galleries are expanding quite fast, and their audience is considerable. Anton Belov is sure that: “Russian society is absolutely ready for contemporary art. But it should be well explained and interpreted.”
Elena Panteleeva confirms this idea. According to her: “Judging by the ticket sales at Winzavod, by the popularity of the free monthly newspaper Winzavod ArtReview and by the active subscriptions on social networks (WINZAVOD has more than 100 thousand subscribers), it seems that public interest in contemporary art is growing.”
Nevertheless, even if growing, the audience remains well defined. Russian contemporary art-lovers are from younger generations; “It is essentially young people from 18 to 35 years old, students and young professionals from the middle class, that is not enough in Russia,” said Anton Belov in an interview with the ‘Voice of Russia’. But the development of art projects and new venues should support the process of democratizing contemporary art in Russia.