Openings Russian Federation

Moscow art dealer opens contemporary art centre in Tver

Marat Guelman plans to expand to around a dozen other regions

Tver River Station

TVER. Marat Guelman, the Moscow gallery pioneer who transformed Perm, a rough industrial centre in the Ural mountains region of Russia, into a contemporary art destination, has opened TverCA, a new contemporary art centre in a Stalin-era river terminal in Tver, a historic city on the Volga river near Moscow, and plans to expand to nearly a dozen other Russian regions.

“Two more centres, in Kazan and Samara, will appear in 2013,” he told The Art Newspaper during a visit to Moscow for court hearings in a slander case, brought against him by Vasily Yakemenko, the strident leader of Nashi, a pro-Kremlin nationalist youth organisation. Kazan and Samara are also on the Volga. “The bigger the network, the more we can do. I think each centre will put on one-third of its own exhibitions, and the rest will come from the other centres,” he added.

Guelman is known both for his controversial art projects and his complicated political ties. He has been tied to the Kremlin as a “political technologist” during election campaigns, while he has also been criticised by some of its supporters, such as Yakemenko, for his art and politics.

In Perm, Guelman is the director of the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened in 2009 in the city's Stalin-era river station on the Kama River. The city has played host to several cultural festivals, including White Nights in Perm in June.

Initially, Guelman had planned to create his provincial “cultural alliance” as it is being called, with the support of United Russia, the Kremlin-controlled party that dominates Russian politics, but he decided against it.

“When the governor [of Perm] wants to have such a centre, there’s no need for United Russia,” he said. “If the governor doesn’t want it, United Russia’s support won’t help.” Oleg Chirkunov, the governor of Perm and a KGB school graduate who lured Guelman from Moscow, has been an unflagging supporter of modernisation through art.

Dmitry Zelenin, Tver’s progressive governor, who came from business into politics, was sacked by president Dmitry Medvedev on 16 June. He had been on shaky ground after tweeting a picture last year of what he claimed was an earthworm in a dish he was served at a Kremlin banquet.

Guelman said the new arts centre in Tver, which opened on 29 April, is not at risk because it is already written into the region’s budget, and there are independent business sponsors in the city, although he added: “Of course we are in Russia, so everything depends on the authorities.” State funding for the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art is Rb80m ($2.9m). The Tver region has budgeted Rb40m ($1.4m) for TverCA.

Guelman is also working on creating a publishing and arts hub in the Tver region dubbed “Humanitarian Skolkovo”, in a play on the high-tech research centre being built outside of Moscow.

At the same time, Guelman said each region has its quirks, and Tver, with its proximity to Moscow and valuable real estate market is less dependent on a governor’s whim. Private sponsorship also plays a big role. Sapsan, the high-speed train that links Moscow and St. Petersburg in about four hours passes through Tver and can deliver passengers from Moscow to the city in as little as one hour and four minutes, making it essentially a suburb of the Russian capital.

That also means, said Guelman, that TverCa can’t rely on importing too many shows from Moscow since residents of Tver can easily take a day-trip there, unlike those of Perm, which is nearly a 24-hour train ride from Moscow. TverCa did open, however, with installations by the art group Recycle, first shown at Guelman Gallery in Moscow.

TverCa has already run into controversy with “Russia for All,” an exhibition by Dmitry Gutov and Viktor Bondarenko, that was unveiled at TverCA in time for the 12 June public holiday and is due to travel around Russia.

The exhibition, which depicts in graffiti-like splashes the names of famous figures in Russian and Soviet history, accompanied by their ethnic origin, is billed as a statement against nationalism. Some cultural critics, however, say that the show foments nationalism by highlighting ethnic origin, for example, “Kazimir Malevich—Pole”, and “Maya Plisetskaya—Jewess”.

Photographs lined along the floor show nationalist and opposition demonstrations in Russia, which have often resulted in bloody violence. Guelman said the Russian Orthodox Church also has a much stronger presence in Tver than in Perm, but that won’t lead TverCa to self-censor its exhibitions. A local priest has already been railing against them. The Tver river station is built on the site of a monastery that was in early Soviet years almost completely destroyed. Only one of its churches remains standing.

Irina Yashkova, the director of TverCA, said that Russia needs contemporary art to help restore spirituality. “In recent years, people earned money and didn’t think of their soul,” she said. “This is a natural stage in the development of the new Russia. First it was economic, now it’s spiritual. We are worthy of that. Our country is not only a huge territory, but it has raised smart, educated people with a rich culture and history, and there must be new art that can reprocess that and give impetus to new processes.”

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Comments

17 Jul 11
4:30 CET

A. D. COLEMAN, STATEN ISLAND

You state that "Some cultural critics . . . say that the show foments nationalism by highlighting ethnic origin, for example, 'Kazimir Malevich—Pole', and 'Maya Plisetskaya—Jewess'." Since, as you must know, there are Polish Jews and Ukrainian Catholics, both you and this show's curators have conflated ethnicity, religion, and nationality. Not a promising situation. Does the planned rehabilitation of Tver as a cultural-tourism destination involve any acknowledgment of the historical fact that, at the outset of WWII, under its Stalin-era name of Kalinin, Tver served Uncle Joe and his henchmen as a killing ground for thousands of Poles of all religious persuasions? Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin, chief executioner for the NKVD, is reported to have personally shot and killed 7,000 of the condemned, some as young as 18, from the Ostashkov camp at Kalinin prison over a period of 28 days in April 1940. Could be material for an art piece or two in there somewhere -- maybe enough for a show.

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