Making Moves in Moscow

Two major Russian art spaces will reopen in historic buildings

The landmark Udarnik cinema, opened in 1931, will soon be transformed into a private museum of contemporary Russian art.


Darya (Dasha) Zhukova’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture will reopen this summer in Moscow’s historic Gorky Park. The popular arts complex, established in 2008 by the partner of the Russian billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich, was originally housed in a former bus depot designed by the famous Constructivist architect Konstantin Melnikov in 1926. The center will occupy a temporary structure designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban while its permanent home, the pavilion of the former Seasons of the Year restaurant, is restored.

“This pavilion will be built by the end of the summer, and in the beginning of the autumn we will start the exhibition program,” Zhukova said at a presentation in Moscow.

The center has already held several events in Gorky Park, including a performance last year by the Italian sculptor Fabio Viale, who launched his marble boat on one of its ponds. A new series of outdoor events began in June, when the Austrian choreographer Willi Dorner brought his Bodies in Urban Spaces performance to Moscow and had people squeezing themselves into unlikely nooks and crannies.

The 1960s-era Seasons pavilion has been derelict since the ’90s and is still just a concrete shell without a facade. It will be rebuilt according to a design by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metro­politan Architec- ture, which is involved in a number of projects in Moscow. The two-story building, with 60,000 square feet of space, will have an open-plan ground floor and a “more traditional” gallery area upstairs. Transparent polycarbonate walls will allow views of the park all around.

“The design incorporates Soviet-era design elements such as tiles, mosaic, and brick,” according to a gallery statement. A large existing mosaic on the ground floor will also be incorporated into the design, and the theme will be echoed in a café furnished in a ’60s style. The opening is scheduled for 2013.

Zhukova ultimately intends to expand into a neighboring pavilion called the Hexagon, which traces its history back to the ’20s and is even more derelict than the Seasons building. She said that no date had been set for the opening of the Hexagon.

The center’s opening is part of a highly successful project to regenerate the once seedy and neglected park, which was the location for Martin Cruz Smith’s thriller. Named after the famous Soviet writer, the park was laid out by Melnikov and opened in 1928. It was intended to show workers how to spend their leisure time in a “cultured” way, with lectures, concerts, and sports facilities. Getting Abramovich involved in its renovation was a coup for Gorky Park director Sergei Kapkov, the man behind the revival.

Garage’s original building was under the control of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, but a fire gutted the structure and it had been vacant for years when Zhukova discovered it. Its renovation cost Abramovich $15 million. Despite its out-of-the-way location, Garage was a hit with the public. People lined up on the street to see such exhibitions as an Ilya and Emilia Kabakov retrospective and a show of works from the François Pinault Foundation.

Now the building houses several Jewish institutions, and plans are being completed for the major element in the complex, the largest Jewish museum in the world, to be called the Russian-Jewish Museum of Tolerance.

Another major cultural showcase being planned for the city will also move into a restored historic building. The Artchronika (Art Chronicle) Cultural Foundation has announced that it will open a private museum of contemporary Russian art, to be housed in a Constructivist former movie theater opposite the Kremlin.

“We will open in around a year to a year and a half,” said Tatyana Sakhokiya, vice president of the foundation. “We want to restore the building to its original appearance, and it takes a long time to hold a tender to commission a design project.” The foundation plans to start presenting exhibitions while the restoration is still in progress.

The Artchronika Founda­tion hands out the Kandinsky Prize, one of Russia’s most prestigious awards for contemporary art, and publishes the bimonthly Art Chronika magazine. The foundation’s head is Shalva Breus, a businessman, collector, and former deputy minister of state property. In an interview in Art Chronika, he said that the building would be a “universal arts center where there will be exhibitions, lectures, and cinema showings.”

The center’s permanent display of Russian art will be formed from the foundation’s collection, focusing on the Sots art dissident movement of the 1960s and ’70s, Breus said. His collection includes works by Erik Bulatov and the former duo Komar and Melamid.

The cinema, called Udarnik, or Shock Worker, opened in 1931 as part of the House on the Embankment, an elite housing complex for Soviet officials designed by Boris Iofan, Stalin’s favorite architect. Notoriously, many of its residents vanished in Stalin-era purges. At the time, the Udarnik was the Soviet Union’s largest cinema and hosted its most important premieres.

The gray-painted building has a distinctive curved roof that mirrors the auditorium inside. Its interior has been extensively reworked, currently housing a sushi restaurant and a recently defunct nightclub. The cinema itself closed two years ago for renovations. Since the building is classified as a historic monument, it can—at least theoretically—be restored but not reconstructed.

“We need to take away what our predecessors stuck on, all that tinsel, and draw out the fantastic original,” Breus told Art Chronika, estimating that the building would have 22,000 square feet of gallery space. He plans to use the cinema facilities to show video art on a big screen.

Moscow already has two museums that show contemporary art: the National Center for Contemporary Art, opened in 1994, and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, opened in 1999 by the controversial sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, whose giant statue of Peter the Great looms over the city.

Anna Malpas is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a reporter for Agence France-Presse.

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