At this year’s Russian-only Cosmoscow show, the artistic statements are subtle, but the anxiety is not

To participate Cosmos last year want to tap into the pulse of the Moscow art scene. Lines were long, performances pushed political boundaries and there was an industrial chic vibe, as well as the largest gallery attendance in the fair’s 10-year history. This year, however, exhibitors were down to 72 galleries (down from 80), and they were all Russian, although 13 booths featured work by international artists.

Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I was unable to attend the fair in person (which ran from September 14-18). Instead, I reconnected with those merchants I had met in 2021 and asked a friend, Moscow-born cultural adviser Aleksei Afanasiev, to talk to new entrants in the field.

It is revealing that Art & Brut presented the tangy glitch-pop aesthetic of Ukrainian artist Alexander Zabolotny at the fair again this year, in a radically different context. His artist statement says, in part, “I’ve never been drawn to trauma (although I have to consider its inevitability).”

by Alexander Zabolotny Laocoon, polystyrene and acrylic. Photo: Courtesy of Art & Brut.

Zabolotny moved from his former studio in Russia to Turkey, but, according to gallery co-founder Irina Markman: “The current political crisis, while dreadful, has not severed our close relationship with Alexander.

Through my outreach, however, I discovered that the Fragment gallery, which was behind a pee performance at last year’s fair by artist Dagnini, has moved permanently to New York; Anna Dyulgerova, co-founder of Blazar, Cosmoscow’s affordable art satellite fair (September 13-19), moved to Berlin; and Nadya Kotova, an Antwerp dealer specializing in contemporary Russian art, chose not to participate in part because she was told by her Belgian peers that it would be interpreted as support for Russia’s war against the Ukraine.

According to Cosmoscow founder Margarita Pushkina, going ahead with the fair was a collective decision, not an immediate one. The event only launched its call for entries in June. “Of course there were different opinions,” Pushkin said. “People commented on social media, noting that the entertainment nature of the event was inappropriate at this time.”

“However, it is important to understand that many people’s lives are professionally linked to the fair,” she added. “The response from our community has been very positive, and after a long time of reflection, our gallery owners and artists have plunged into the work.”

Vera Glazkova, who established Arka Gallery in 1995 in Vladivostok, a region bordering China and North Korea – and naturally focuses on the Asian market – agreed. “It’s important to keep working,” she explained of her decision to be one of a handful of galleries exhibiting at Cosmoscow for the first time.

Masha Lamzina, Cute balloons for a homeless dog (2022), wood, pyrography, wood stain, priced at $400 with Arka Gallery.

Drawing attention to its turf, the Arka Gallery presented delicate textiles and artful works in stained wood with shamanic motifs by young rising artist Masha Lamzina, which resonated with the mythological feel of Lyudmila Baronina’s illustration. Lubok-Works influenced by nearby Ural Vision. Also new to the fair is the Serene Gallery, which opened in Moscow in early April, showing Olya Aystreyh’s “Disappear Here” series of swirling paintings of a dissolving swimmer, inspired from the cult novel by Bret Easton Ellis. less than zero.

The decision whether or not to participate in the fair has been complicated for many dealers, and professionals in the art world tend to be divided on the effectiveness of cultural boycotts, as they make a country’s creative sphere pay. for the sins of a government. Olga Temnikova, from the Tallinn-based gallery Temnikova & Kasela, for example, decided not to participate in Cosmoscow this year because of the war. “But we are not canceling Russian culture in any way, because none of the artists or curators I know support the current regime,” she added, “and for this reason the opposition needs all our support”.

Olya Avstreyh, series “Disappear Here”, Swimmer III, oil canvas.

Aleksandr Blanar, a curator working with Shilo Gallery, another Cosmoscow newbie, said that “many artists wonder if they have the right to continue their activity, because there is a risk of clashes with the authorities if you Some artists secretly make statements about the war, while others simply continue their work as a distraction from reality.

The Artwin gallery took the opportunity to take a closer look at this reality by inviting a group of its artists to create new works for the fair. “It seems that the main concern for artists right now is issues of freedom and the ability to express one’s opinion,” said gallery owner Mariana Guber-Gogova. Its stand included works, such as framed mirrors with striped centers in fluorescent green by Evgeny Granilshchikov. “An attempt at declaration is possible even in a vacuum, and perhaps in this vacuum it is particularly important,” Guber-Gogova said. “We have never encountered censorship – the question is whether that will continue to be the case.”

Yet several artists have incorporated more overt statements into their work. There was Osip Toff’s sign art at the Ural Vision booth, which included fun phrases like “Yesterday is over”; Alexander Kipsone’s spray-painted canvas 14,600 days in the desert, which included the word ANGER in capital letters, on view at DiDi, a St. Petersburg gallery known for showing avant-garde artists of the 1950s; and textual iconographic compositions of Cosmoscow’s Artist of the Year Valery Chtak, which featured such phrases as “Only the truth” or “There is no choice.” Whether these works were considered subversive or not, their impact was too subtle to prompt a ban from government officials.

Alexander Kipson, 14,600 days in the desert (2021), mixed media on canvas. Photo: courtesy DiDi Gallery and the artist.

According to gallery owner Ekaterina Iragui, who has participated in Cosmoscow since the first edition, “contemporary art remains one of the rare independent resources to activate thought. What happens cannot be dictated or controlled. Although she admitted that there are cases of self-censorship by artists and art spaces in the country, the Cosmoscow fair is “the only free platform of such magnitude” for the Russian contemporary art scene. . “On opening night, the hugs were stronger than ever,” added Iragui. “I could feel that the relationships between people got stronger. Everyone was happy that such a platform still exists.

Other stars of the fair included Vladislav Efimov’s textural and meditative photographs of forests at Pennlab Gallery and Alexander Lemish’s tongue-in-cheek digital paintings such as Gemstone Pizza at Fabula Gallery, most of which have sold for up to $5,000. Kirill Gashan, known for his Soviet-style hyperrealism, showed his strikingBestiary series of animal portraits in haunting environments at the Szena gallery. Four of the works sold on the first day of the fair for between $6,000 and $12,000.

Vladislav Yefimov, Around the forest (2022), C-print, edition of 3 + 1AP. Photo: courtesy PENNLAB Gallery and the artist.

“I think now is a difficult time for young Russian artists, who can only count on financial support from within the country, which is very limited,” said Szena director Anastasia Shavlokhova. “The responsibility lies primarily with the galleries to act as micro-institutions, and not just to sell the works, but also to seek out fundraising opportunities and to carry out museum-quality exhibitions in their spaces.”

The digital sphere has brought new sources of funding to Cosmoscow, with online banking Tinkoff Private and Swiss technology company 4ARTechnologies (which has a collection of works by Andy Warhol, Kevin Abosh, Ai Weiwei and others), collaborating with local galleries and institutions on NFT.

The digital art section of the fair has also become a permanent feature (and not just a special project), curated by the artist collective Instigators. This year’s edition saw exciting themes such as the digitization of ancient skulls by Russian NFT artist Kirill Rave, and children’s toys considered early avatars, in a collaboration between Uzbek multimedia artist Denis Davydov and Georgian-American artist Uta Bekaia.

Alexander Lemish, Daddy Johns (2022), digital painting, c-print, acrylic composite, metal.

By many accounts, there was a strong local buzz about the fair this year, with public figures in attendance as well as the usual art world suspects, such as museum director Shalva Breus of the Breus Foundation. and the recently announced Museum of Contemporary Art in Tbilisi.

Sales were comparable to $2.7 million last year, indicating that Russian collectors still primarily buy Russian art. But with the recent resignation of the fair’s artistic director, Simon Rees of New Zealand, and overseas sponsors like Ruinart, Breguet and Audi withdrawing their funding, it remains to be seen how well Cosmoscow can cushion the impact of war on the country’s artistic community. And, in turn, how isolated this community will be from the international stage.

“The situation of Russian galleries in the international context has never been easy,” said Iragui, who participated in several international fairs this year, including NADA in New York and the upcoming Paris Internationale. “We cannot say that Russian galleries suddenly disappeared from fairs, because our role was never strong in the first place.

“The international artistic community has personally been very supportive of me,” Iragui added, “and I can say that personal connections prevail over mainstream or government-led opinions.”

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