Russia is trying to engineer its own contemporary art boom. But it is too much in thrall to non-Russian artists and curators—and runs the risk of ignoring its home-grown talentby Ben Lewis / April 29, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
A massive project is under way in Russia, comparable in scale and boldness to the construction of the White sea canal. The mayor of Moscow, big businesses and an elite of Russian art collectors are engineering their own contemporary art boom.
Someone kindly thought I was important enough to play a part, and so, at the beginning of March, I accepted an invitation to join a small group of British curators on a jolly to the second Moscow biennale. As we shuttled between art exhibitions and free dinners, I witnessed the early stages of a five-year plan to create a contemporary art market in Russia. It was exciting, but there was also something tragic about what was unfolding: its dynamic, which was at once naive, idealistic and brash, reflects not only the showy values of new Russia, but 500 years of doomed Russian efforts to graft western European sophistication on to its marvellous culture.
The organisers had certainly fallen at the first hurdle in their choice of title for the biennale: “Footnotes on Geopolitics, Market and Amnesia.” The suggestion of an inflated art boom—and of our forgetfulness about the last bust—displayed an ill-advised candour that wouldn’t be found at non-Russian art events.