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Russia leads contemporary art charge

Razia Iqbal | 11:30 UK time, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

shezardawoodhetna.jpgThere's quite a lot kicking around the blogosphere at the moment about it all being over for contemporary British art, and that the artists who will forever be associated with bling and excess are facing their very own downturn.

However, over in Moscow, it seems money is still swilling around and there is an appetite for contemporary art which is alive and vibrant. We all know a little about the glamorous Russian heiress Dasha Zhukova, girlfriend of Roman Abramovich, art collector and most recently, appointed editor of the fashion magazine, Pop, which incidentally she aims to move into a more artistic and cultural direction. I'll be keeping an eye on this, so watch this space.

Maria Baibakova is even younger than her good friend Dasha. At 23, she has a rouble or two of her father's money, (Oleg Baibakov is a hugely wealthy former executive of the giant mining company, Norilsk Nickel) which she is using to establish BAIBAKOV art projects in Moscow, at the Red October Chocolate Factory, and a show featuring 20 London-based artists has just opened there.

It's the first time since 1995, that a collection of up and coming artists has been exhibited abroad on this scale. Then it was Charles Saatchi who took Brilliant! to the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis. Among the artists in that show were Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin and the Chapman Brothers. Could Maria Baibakova be the next Charles Saatchi? Her credentials are impressive: art history at Barnard College, Columbia University, followed by the Courtauld Institute in London.

When we spoke on the phone, she told me that it is difficult to define what makes a British artist, but that it hardly mattered, because London speaks a global language when it comes to artists and what she wants to do is create an appetite for contemporary art in Russia. Her confidence is startling. The space she is showing in was used by the dealer Larry Gagosian last year for a sale of work by of 70 artists. Maria Baibokova is less interested in the commercial aspect, and more in educating the audience. She says she wants to show Russians, who are still uncomfortable with non-realistic work, what contemporary art can be. The work, Carrion, by Eloise Fornieles will certainly challenge: the artist walks naked through piles of second hand clothes; in the midst of the clothes hangs the carcass of a cow. People are encouraged to write letters of apology for consuming, which are then inserted into the cow by the artist.

Among the artists she is showing are Shezar Dawood, Idris Khan, Conrad Shawcross and Ryan Gander. Later this week, the Francois Pinault Foundation collection will stage an ambitious show at the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture, (which was opened by Dasha Zhukova last year) filling 8,500 square metres of the Garage building with artists such as Shirin Neshat and Maurizio Cattelan and many others. Artistic activity in Moscow suggests that the flow of money there is fast establishing it as a credible and exciting centre for contemporary art and it is thrilling that at its heart are two very young women who appear to be passionate about art.


  • Comment number 1.

    Fuddy duddy Sandy McCall Smith in the Wealth: First Million slot in Saturday's FT was opinioning that the contemporary art market is a bubble waiting to burst. I would imagine that dear old Sandy will be harruphing all the way to his local Tesco Metro (which he shares with Jo Rowling, Ian Rankin, and Alistair Darling) to stock up on good claret to celebrate when his prophecy comes true. But I personally take my hat off to both ladies. It shows imagination, promise and, I think, a breath of fresh air from a new generation.

    What I most like about going out to The Jazz Bar in Edinburgh is the sheer absence of baby boomers. Like Sandy no doubt they are tucked up in bed with a nice glass of hot chocolate and a hot water bottle gazing lovingly at an old master or some sentimental Victorian painting on the wall
    I can't see dear old Sandy hot footing it to Moscow for this show. But I certainly wish that I could be there. Good luck to all involved, artists, organisers and the talented art entrepreneurs.

  • Comment number 2.

    Who ever is the new name to give value is just that, a name, its the system that's the problem.

    The fine art world has more in common with affinity fraud than any objective assessment of art. So strong is the feudal nature of this world that there are those who only believe there is subjective judgment. You have a situation where a small but powerful group of curators and collectors are able to pick up and give mega value to which ever artists they chose to trumpet. This power to give value trickles down and everyone else steps into line including the artists who's sole concern is their career, they challenge nothing.

    The wannabes have their value as well - to the wealthy art people, scammers, exploitative TV and other art people "on the make" - reality shows, pay to enter competitions and the like, usually with their own little ego trip power game along the way - the equivalent to making people jump through hoops which usually amounts to some form of humiliation so the judges can get their rocks off.

    If the fine art photo world is anything to go by its mega bland un-challenging stuff that mostly uses 19th Century methods to produce high level image quality but is chained up and bound by a technique that demands a specific method of articulation which doesn't allow a progression of making the image - you have to use a tripod to use a 10x8 camera. Its only in scanning and processing that improvement has happened, I say improvement and not innovation because the concept and use of layering photo images to produce a single image happened in the 19th Century. Layers are what make Photoshop a powerful imaging application.

    In terms of the art market as far as I know there is no regulation. I would guess its wide open for corruption.

  • Comment number 3.

    I can quite understand why you would refer my posting with the lyrics to Lincoln City's Clover and The Duke to the moderators Razia literally within minutes of the post. But it does, does it not tell us that art for art sake only goes so far. Powerful words knocking the establishment status quo are really just not to be tolerated are they? It always amuses me that academics who pore over the lives of radicals and revere them so in print would run a mile if they came across one of them socially today, be it Burns, Byron or whoever. We need to reflect on our own double standards and hypocrisy, hoping along the way that our artists never cease to take issue with it both in images AND in words.

  • Comment number 4.

    @ streetphotobeing

    mmnn yes indeed :)

    @ thatotherspamguy2

    you are a crashing and odious bore. your posts are little more than spam. no one is interested, no one is impressed. may i direct you to mark mardell's euro blog, the natural environment for contributors of self serving drivel.

  • Comment number 5.

    re billy_carryduff

    A reaction! How sweet of you to write. A self serving odious bore? What fun! At least you have been paying attention to the drivel and have formed an opinion in print. One does wonder sometime whether anyone actually reads this stuff. Actually I have had a look at Mark Mardell's blog but, as you say, it is incredibly tedious. Much like his TV reporting. I can never make head nor tail about what he is going on about. Anyone else willing to take a pop at me? It could be such fun.....or am I being attention seeking and self serving again. Perhaps Mr Duff can tell us.

  • Comment number 6.

    Actually I should have added on the subject of spam, Mr Duff, you should click on to Nick Robinson's blog where you will find, rather good I think, stand up for Evan Davis on the subject of another odious bore - Health Secretary Alan Johnson - eating deep fried spam fritters for breakfast. It's the one before Our Gord got up on his hind legs in Congress. Our Gord in congress, sexual or otherwise. Now there's a thought to ponder on this fine morning Mr Duff. Best wishes from your odious spam loving friend and fellow blogger thatotherguy2

    PS Still friends I hope

  • Comment number 7.

    Am I a Philistine or is it that the contemporary art market is yet another speculative bubble just waiting to burst? The test of time is the real measure of the value or otherwise of art. Are today's "geniuses" to be confined to the dustbin of history, forgotten even within their own lifetimes? Most probably YES!

  • Comment number 8.

    From your article, I fail to see how "Russia is leading the charge" in contemporary art. Perhaps Russia is leading the charge in rich young, ambitious, Ivy-League-educated people interesting in acquiring cultural capital, but that is far from what the title suggests, which is that Russia is spearheading some kind of Renaissance.

  • Comment number 9.

    Actually No 7 (may I call you Mike?) there is a lovely line in Absolutely Fabulous where Patsy turns to Edina and says "But is it art Eddy? The whole thing was a piss take, of course, of modern art, but it is a legitimate question. Who exactly determines if it is art or not?

    When the US became the leading world power after the second world war part of the spoils of victory was to determine what is art. Clement Greenberg was the high priest of all this until he dissed Andy Warhol and a severe bear market in his personal stock ensued.

    Since then US cultural imperialism has thrown up quite a lot of good stuff such as Rothko. You personally might not get it but it us undoubtedly great art and recognised as such.

    If the current financial crisis means that the world is shifting on its axis yet again then who knows maybe great art will be Chinese and western art will enjoy its own severe bear market much as Russian constructivist art has since the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

    You might not like this stuff Razia describes but it does have merit - and a lot more than the third rate nineteenth century impressionist art by Russian painters that was fetching absurdly high prices in London even quite recently although that bubble has now burst.

    Human beings are not perfect and quite easily fall into attaching too much value to things such as tulip bulbs. That is just the way things are and the way that they always will be. Just chill and enjoy what you can would be my advice. No point in railing against it, although I do entirely understand the way you see things and why you have come to your conclusions.

    As invitigarta points out these young ladies are rich, cultivated and Ivy League. But so what? So many young rich, cultivated, Ivy League women throw their energies into investment banking these days. What would you prefer that they do? Dissing peoples' energy just because they are rich and well connected can come across as being the politics of envy and that is to my mind, at least, quite a slippery slope. But what do I know anyway? It is just nice to see Razia's blog firing up with some real debate!

  • Comment number 10.

    So I filled in this online form for the BBC/Saatchi Best of British competition knowing that I would have to give my home address to enter. I made a change to my name so that when the product/service spam started to come through my letter box I would know where it came from. It arrived a few days ago via a TV celeb who's opening a facility near to where I live. HA think I'll continue walking - save a load of dosh. So that's the Best of British is it. Cant say 100% where it came from but I feel fairly sure.


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