…and Mendelsohn factory in St Petersburg transformed

Real estate developer to show art

ST PETERSBURG. A fledgling Russian real estate developer will renovate one of the country’s most important modernist architectural sites, and use part of its sprawling five hectares to create St Petersburg’s first contemporary arts centre.

In March Igor Burdinsky, 45, invited The Art Newspaper, along with officials from the State Russian Museum and the Guggenheim, on a tour of the Red Banner (Krasnoye Znamya) textile factory in the historic Petrograd district.

German modernist architect Erich Mendelsohn designed the Red Banner factory in 1925, but was forced by the political situation to leave earlier than planned. Only parts of his plans were realised, most notably the on-site power station, a striking work of architecture resembling a ship.

“Red Banner is a masterpiece of constructivist architecture, and was one of the Soviet Union’s largest textile factories,’’ said Olesya Turkina, a contemporary art curator at the State Russian Museum.

Rival developers wanted to tear the factory down, which would make economic sense, said Mr Burdinsky. According to his preliminary plans, however, most of the existing space will be renovated for retail, office and residential purposes. The cultural dimension will distinguish his from other real estate projects, he says. “Culture brings other dividends for me: personal development, new knowledge, social contacts, and in the end this makes investment in culture both profitable and fulfilling,’’ said Mr Burdinsky.

Mr Burdinsky, whose background is in financial services, said he is new to real estate development, and previously only worked on small projects. He says he is working with German architecture experts from the University of Karlsruhe, as well as Italian architect, Massimiliano Fuksas. “I want to work with the best experts because I want to properly develop this unique historical site,’’ said Mr Burdinsky.

Though he has no previous involvement in cultural projects, Mr Burdinsky says he is educating himself about contemporary art, for instance travelling to Art Basel Miami Beach at the invitation of Nic Iljine, corporate development director for Europe at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. “Igor Burdinsky is part a new generation of Russian businessmen who want to invest in culture, and not just buy another yacht or villa,’’ said Mr Iljine.

Mr Burdinsky’s plans come amid a run of gallery development not seen since the late 1980s when the non-conformist squat, Pushkin 10, was founded. In June 2007, Etazhi (Floors) opened in a Soviet-era food processing plant in the city centre. It includes a commercial gallery, Globe Gallery, as well as a public exhibition hall for young artists. Last autumn about a dozen young artists, supported by a businessman who made his fortune developing a chain of cinemas, and

who call themselves the Unconquerables, took up residence in a former defence factory in the north of the city.

John Varoli

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