The eighth Innovation Prize award ceremony took place Tuesday night in the Moscow Manege, a Neo-Classical former indoor riding academy adjacent to Red Square, which since 1831 has served as an exhibition space. The annual prize, funded by the state and administered by Moscow’s National Center for Contemporary Arts (NCCA), includes awards totaling about $100,000, given to either Russian nationals or curators of Russian-themed exhibitions and spread across seven categories (including two out-of-competition awards), such as for works of art, curatorial projects and art theory and criticism. In addition, the Innovation Prize jury selected winners of four partner prizes, including a prize donated by Moscow collector Stella Kesaeva, who is for the second time commissioner of the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
“Winning the Innovation Prize is like winning Eurovision or the American Music Awards,” Russian artist Evgenia Balantseva, one of the nominees for the “new generation” award, told A.i.A. over lunch, aptly anticipating the spectacular atmosphere at the ceremony a few hours later, where there were television cameras, a big screen, live pipe organ music and a 30-strong children’s choir. “The prize is one of the most important ones in Russia. It not only focuses on artists but also on curatorial practice,” executive director of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and three-time jury member Vasili Tsereteli told A.i.A.
The five exhibitions shortlisted in the curatorial project category raised some eyebrows, since two out of the seven jury members were nominated as best curator. While the loudest applause went to Vitaly Patsukov’s exhibition “John Cage: Silent Presence,” which took place at Moscow’s National Center for Contemporary Arts, it was Iara Boubnova, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art Sofia, Bulgaria, who won the prize for her work in the second Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art, which took place in Ekaterinburg last fall. Boubnova, who is currently co-curating Jan Hoet’s first Online Biennial, was a member of the Innovation Prize jury.
Before going on stage to collect the prize, she told A.i.A., “I asked the director of the NCCA to retract my nomination, but it was too late. I am not a white angel, but it’s not foul play,” she insisted. Curator Andrey Erofeyev (also a nominee and a jury member) told A.i.A., “Iara and I both left the room when the categories in which our projects were nominated were being discussed and voted on.” Later in the evening she additionally received a partner prize offered by ViennaFair, by a vote of the same jury.
Erofeyev, whose dismissal from the Tretyakov State Gallery in 2009 for his exhibition “Forbidden Art” caused a stir internationally, had been nominated for “Angle of Vision,” a solo exhibition of Leonid Sokov at Moscow’s MoMA last spring. While he lost out to Boubnova in the main prize, he received a partner prize donated by U-ART: You and Art, a foundation created by private collector couple Tamaz and Iveta Manasherov.
“There is not enough healthy competition in the Russian art scene,” Elena Strygina, director of nonprofit space Red October Gallery, told A.i.A. at the ceremony. “That’s always the problem-the art world in Russia is so small,” Valerij Ledenev, editor of Artchronika magazine, told A.i.A. by e-mail.
Pre-selection committee member and curator Simon Rees of Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) defended the process, however, telling A.i.A. that this year’s edition of the Innovation Prize was “a fair reflection of the Russian contemporary art scene.”