The CEO of the Russian natural-gas company Novatek, Mikhelson has devoted a portion of his wealth to bringing Russian contemporary art to places beyond Russia. In 2009, Mikhelson created the V-A-C Foundation, named for his daughter, Victoria. The foundation organizes and presents exhibitions by Russian and international contemporary artists, such as Anatoly Osmolovsky, Arseny Zhilyaev, Sergey Sapozhnikov, Mark Dion, Paweł Althamer, Mike Nelson, Fiona Banner, James Richards, Lynette Yiadom-Boayke, and Tino Sehgal.
The foundation has also partnered with various cultural institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitechapel Gallery in London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, and co-produced the New Museum’s 2012 exhibition “Ostalgia,” which focused on Eastern European contemporary art. Mikhelson has also funded Ilya and Emilia Kabokov’s 2014 installation at the Grand Palais in Paris, as well as their 2017 retrospective at Tate Modern in London and Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
In 2017, V-A-C opened a contemporary art space in Venice, and has plans to open a new exhibition space, at over 215,000 square feet, for contemporary culture in Moscow in 2020, designed by Renzo Piano. GES-2, as that space is to be called, was scheduled to open in 2019, but in February of that year, Teresa Iarocci Mavica, the director of V-A-C, announced that it would be pushed back because “projects of this scale and ambition sometimes have to be revised.” With its costs growing “frightening,” according to Mikhelson, GES-2 was given a September 2020 inauguration date, though its grand opening was later pushed to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mikhelson’s collection includes works by Francis Bacon, Alighiero e Boetti, Marcel Broodthaers, Bridget Riley, Hito Steyerl, Andreas Gursky, Sigmar Polke, and Thomas Struth, among others.