Collector Stella Kesaeva’s plans for a new gallery in her garage

The Moscow-based collector has amassed a hoard of Russian contemporary art


Moscow-based collector Stella Kesaeva has revealed more details of her plans for a contemporary art museum that—echoing Daria Zhukova’s GCCC gallery—will take over a former bus depot built by architect Konstantin Melnikov (November 2008, p1). She spoke to The Art Newspaper in Vienna where she was opening a show of Russian contemporary art at the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM)

Ms Kesaeva, wife of Russian billionaire Igor Kesaev, first came to attention in 2004 when, as Stella Kay, she established the Stella Art Foundation and Stella Art Gallery in Moscow, noted as the first gallery to showcase western artists in the Russian capital. However in early 2007 she suddenly closed her gallery to focus on the foundation’s goal of organising non-profit exhibitions. Except for “Ruins of Russia”, a show of photographs and video at the Venice Biennale in 2007, she has been conspicuous by her perceived lack of activity.

“Yes, these past 18 months have been quiet, but I used this time to search out Russian contemporary works of art in Europe and build up my collection,” Ms Kesaeva told The Art News­paper.

“European collectors were happy to be rid of what they thought was rubbish,” she said. “They had no idea what they were holding. It’s awful that our artists do not pay attention to whom they sell their works and where they end up.”

Her collection counts works by top-selling artists including the Kabakovs, Dmitry Gutov, Vladislav Mamyshev-Monro, Oleg Kulik, Sergei Bugaev Afrika, and Semen Faibisovich. In 2005 she bought the entire show of works by Yuri Avvakumov which she held at her gallery. In early 2007 she sponsored an exhibition of work by Anatoly Osmolovsky— most of which she also now owns—which later earned him the Kandinsky Prize for Best Artist of the Year.

Among her new acquisitions are works by Alexander Kosolapov, Yuri Albert and Komar & Melamid. Except for one work by Komar & Melamid that she bought at Sotheby’s, nearly all of the works cost her less than $10,000 each. Her collection now numbers about 550 works by about 75 artists, 30% of which were acquired in the past 18 months.

“I want Russian artists to be as much desired and expensive as Warhol and Hirst,” said Ms Kesaeva. “Americans and British invest in art. Russians don’t yet. But our foundation is trying to change this.’’

In Vienna she also announced plans to cooperate with Viennese auction house Dorotheum. Martin Böhm, Dorotheum’s chairman, would not confirm that Ms Kesaeva is a client, but said her foundation helped organise its first-ever pre-sale exhibition in Moscow, featuring works by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. In return Dorotheum helped her with the show at the KHM.

While Russian art is and remains her main direction, her tastes are eclectic; she owns 13 photographs by Robert Map­plethorpe, three paintings by David Salle, and two photographs by Spencer Tunick.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Stella Kesaeva’s plans for her garage'