Collectors Russian Federation

Soviet Union’s forbidden art unveiled

St Petersburg’s first private art museum opens, showing Soviet underground and Russian contemporary art

Anti-fascist fantasy: Yalta Conference: the Judgement of Paris, by Komar and Melamid, 1985-86

st petersburg. A private Russian collector is due to open St Petersburg’s first private art museum on 4 June. Novy Museum, the brainchild of Aslan Chekhoev and his wife Irina, is devoted to Soviet underground and Russian contemporary art. The museum is centred on the Chekhoevs’ collection of nearly 300 paintings, works on paper and photographs assembled over the past five years.

The couple has spent E1m renovating three floors in a 19th-century building on the historic Vasilievsky Island, not far from St Petersburg State University and the Russian Academy of Fine Arts. The collection features works by 69 artists—including Yevgeny Rukhin, Evgeny Mikhnov-Voitenko, Komar and Melamid and Oscar Rabin—and the inaugural exhibition features a sample work by each artist.

When asked why he embarked on this project, Chekhoev said: “We see this as something for history and for St Petersburg, because around 70% of our collection is comprised of important Moscow artists whose works are not well represented in our local museums.”

Chekhoev will rotate the exhibition around three times a year, and he also wants to collaborate with other collectors. The Chekhoevs have been active buyers at major European and US auction houses, spending around E5m to build the collection. Their most notable purchase was Komar and Melamid’s Yalta Conference: the Judgment of Paris, 1985-86, which they purchased at MacDougall’s in London in November 2007 for £184,400. The three-metre-wide canvas depicts the conference that divided Europe during the second world war in the guise of Greek mythology. The painting shows Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin as Greek goddesses and Hitler as the shepherd-prince Paris.

“Russian art of the second half of the 20th century is truly unique, but it is not appreciated in Russia and abroad,” said Chekhoev. “Underground art arose in extreme situations of dictatorship; never mind the censorship and repression, it was simply difficult to get materials. While this slowed them down, it also forced them to be more creative and resourceful, and this spurred an incredible level of originality.”

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