“Hotbed of historic and contemporary art” might not be the first phrase that pops into your head when you think of Moscow. Unless you’re a Russian or are dating one, you prob think: freezing, Putin, caviar, models, Siberia, USSR, spies, election interference and fur coats. And maybe cabbage. In that order.
Moody Russian man not included.
Well, as TheArtGorgeous resident Russian, I’m here to tell you that you’re not wrong—Moscow actually is all of those things (except for USSR, strictly speaking, and Siberia… come on guys, learn your geography).
But it’s also so much more. St. Petersburg might elicit more starry-eyed longing from would-be tourists than the snowy capital, but Moscow is, arguably, infinitely richer and more unique. Straddling the East and the West, proud and isolated, it’s a microcosm of culture that can’t be compared to anywhere else in the world, and its art scene reflects that.
Russia gets a bad rap for conservative and even reactionary tastes. Follow the typical young Russian couple around a contemporary art exhibit and you’ll see what I mean—modern art hasn’t really hit the mainstream in the same way it has in the West.
Isaac Levitan, March (1895). Cute, but it’s no Kandinsky.
But to quote my fav 60s hippie babe, Bob Dylan, the times, they are a-changin’. A new generation of artists is blazing forward through uncharted territory, catapulting Moscow to the top of the list of contemporary art’s hotspots. From Pussy Riot to Dasha Zhukova, lots of the art world’s biggest names to watch hail from Moscow. Now, you can see the Tsar’s crown jewels from 1000 years ago and cutting-edge contemporary artwork from across the world, all in one afternoon.
And if you need more convincing, here are 5 reasons to pack your furs and head to Moscow to see art this winter.
The latest and greatest: Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Garage, the hot young cousin of the Moscow art world that all the other museums are a little jealous of. Garage is the friend that shows up to the low-key get-together in a fur coat and her entire ring collection, Pomsky in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
Garage was founded by rich and gorgeous socialite-turned-aesthete Dasha Zhukova, founder of Garage Magazine, and her now ex, billionaire Roman Abramovich (don’t worry, he’s still building her a three-penthouse mansion in NYC). It now sits smack in the middle of Moscow in Gorky Park, just a hop away from tons of museums, tourist landmarks and the Moskva River.
Garage rivals the world’s biggest and best-known contemporary art museums. Its diverse and original exhibitions include both Russian and international contemporary art.
This winter, you can catch Mexican artist Damián Ortega’s first solo presentation in Russia; a Marcel Broodthaers solo show (also the first); The Fabric of Felicity, a show about clothes in art beyond the fashion industry; and bauhaus imaginista, an international project about the Bauhaus movement. Not too shabby for a city known for bearskin hats and cabbage soup.
Wanna hang with the Russian Cindy Sherman? Check out Garage.
Oh, and the café is to die for, whether you’re hungry for veal or cauliflower patties. Stick around after the exhibit for an unforgettable meal plus outfit inspo and eavesdroping in on the crème-de-la-crème of the Moscow art scene. You know what they say: the only thing that brings people together more than great art is great food.
Strike a pose: Lumiere Brothers Centre for Photography
Soviet photographer Mark Markov-Grinberg is just one of the gems you’ll discover at the Lumiere Centre.
Opened less than a decade ago in 2010, the Lumiere Brothers Centre is where modern Soviet, Russian and foreign photography all come to tango. Showcasing both Soviet history and global culture, its collection offers a unique glimpse into the twentieth century that you won’t find this in any of the textbooks.
Come hang for a rare chance to delve into the murky and mysterious Soviet culture. Instead of learning about the USSR from some dusty Harvard historian or from propaganda posters, like most Westerners do, you can discover the faces and places of Soviet Russia from a visual perspective, as seen and experienced by the people themselves.
And in case you’re wondering, they also exhibit the world’s biggest photography names, from Douglas Kirkland to Robert Mapplethorpe.
Best of all, the Centre is housed inside of the former Red October chocolate factory, basically a sacred site for Soviet kids. Ask any babushka on the street and she’ll tell you about school fieldtrips to the HQ of the best chocolate ever. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find one of these bad boys tucked away in a corner somewhere… or just head to the nearest market to satisfy that post-gallery sugar craving.
Fun fact, most Russian candy has classical paintings on the wrappers.
Off the beaten path: Artplay Centre of Design
If you’re more of a “DIY art show in your friend’s basement” than a “low-fat yogurt on the steps of the Met” kinda girl, you’ll love this place. The so-called SoHo of Moscow, the Artplay Centre of Design is actually a factory space-turned-creative cluster of designer shops, cafes, educational institutions and galleries that puts on artistic events throughout the year.
The place get super crowded and noisy during the summer (the rooftop concerts are a big draw) but if you’re brave enough to trek out in the winter months, you might just find the whole place to yourself, so you can soak in the culture stress-free.
Recent Van Gogh installation at Artplay.
Don’t miss the three large exhibition halls, which house rotating exhibits of contemporary art, but when you’re done, we recommend leaving an hour or two free to amble around the little shops looking for the perfect gift or unique souvenir. Keep an eye out for the “OTKPbITO” store, which sells items decorated with art by Russian adults with Autism. Proceeds go to help the group, so you can have your art and feel good about it, too.
Micky Mouse installation at ArtPlay.
Oh, and they have lanky USSR-brutalist-aesthetic men doing yoga, too.
Classic never goes out of style: Tretyakov Gallery
While Garage might be the young wild child of the Moscow art scene, the Tretyakov is her stately aunt who might not go out three times a week any more but has an impeccable closet filled with vintage Italian silk. This lady is regal, she’s earned her respect and she knows her shit.
The Tretyakov is actually composed of two main galleries, the Tretyakov Gallery itself and the New Tretyakov, as well as multiple memorial house museums sprinkled around the city. While the Tretyakov is, as its IG page proudly proclaims, Russia’s most important museum of native art, the New Tretyakov houses art by Russian avant-garde masters. Both put on a mean temporary exhibit too, curating its own shows and attracting world-class rotating exhibits from around the world.
On now at the Tretyakov Gallery: Sergey Zaryanko.
Under the fire directorship of Zelfira Tregulova, the Tretyakov has recently undergone a recent Renaissance. What had become an old-fashioned and stuffy museum (how many ways can you market a 13th-century icon to Millennials?) is now basically the art world’s Studio 45—people even stood in line for four hours (in a Russian winter!) to see the Valentin Serov show. Unclear if they were giving out free avocado toast inside or if Tregulova has mastered synchrodestiny, but you probably wanna get in on the hype.
Natalia Turnova on view at the New Tretyakov until November 25.
Artwork by Natalia Turnova.
Hot, hot, hot: galleries
In case you’re not feeling a full-on museum day but still want to slip in a light dose of art, galleries are your best bet. Not sure where to go? We got you.
For that afternoon when you’re fresh off a lunch meeting with Putin and have a few hours to kill before your champagne and caviar dinner, check out Solyanka VPA. One of Moscow’s oldest galleries at age 30, it’s artist-run and has it all, from classical Russian art to rare collection pieces to work by emerging artists.
In the Winzavod neighborhood, one of Moscow’s main arts districts, don’t miss Ovcharenko Gallery. You’re guaranteed to see some of the most exciting contemporary artwork on display in the country.
If you’re trying to kill two birds with one stone (art and architecture, that is), RuArts is your move. If this were a lesser gallery, the space might be more interesting than the artwork itself, but RuArts’ work pulls its own weight. The gallery focuses on experimental media, video art and photography by Russian and international artists.
By Kimiko Yoshida.
So there you have it. Pack your furs and meet me on the Red Square!
Photos via Auto Car Hire International, Fur Hat World, Home and Away, Garage,
Time Magazine, @garagemca, @lumiere_center, Wikipedia,
Pinterest, Protoplan, @artplaymedia, Tretyakov Gallery,
@tretyakov_gallery, @solyanka_vpa, @magischestuk, @ruartsgallery.