The GES-2 House of Culture in Moscow opens a new era in art

Moscow celebrated the inauguration of the GES-2 House of Culture on Saturday.

Led by curator Teresa Iarocci Mavica and funded by director of gas company Novatek Leonid Mikhelson, GES-2 is designed to create a revolution in the Russian art scene.

GES-2 is the new headquarters of the VAC Foundation, founded by Mavica and Mikhelson in 2009 and dedicated to the popularization of contemporary art. Instead of a museum or gallery, the space is a House of Culture: a multifunctional space for exhibitions, concerts, courses, residences, films, performances and parties with several restaurants and cafes.

Located on Bolotny Island in the center of the Moscow River, it stands opposite the Kremlin on one side and opposite a concert hall and cinema on the other side. It is a short walk from several of Moscow’s most famous museums and art schools. The space is intended as a hub, open to the public both literally and figuratively.

“In spring and summer, the entire facade of the building will be open,” Teresa Mavica told the Moscow Times.

And above all, entry to all events is free and open to all.

The concept of the center is a new take on a very old Russian tradition. At the end of the imperial period, landowners and municipalities opened “people’s houses” where local residents could take reading lessons and other skills, attend lectures, receive religious instruction, and participate in choirs and other activities. At the start of the Soviet period, they were revived as houses and palaces of culture.

Director of the VAC Teresa Iarocci Mavica Foundation.
Vladimir Gerdo / TASS

“We could have built a traditional museum, but what would it do? Mavica said. “It would have been easier to open a museum, to pay to put on big shows, but that has nothing to do with the context of art today.”

“To build the future, you must always know where you come from, the tradition and the history,” Mavica said. “In 1882, in a small town in Siberia, the first“ people’s house ”was opened with the mission of“ eliminating illiteracy ”. People are afraid of contemporary art. We want to eliminate modern cultural illiteracy, ”she said.

A redesigned power station

Construction of GES-2 – the Russian acronym for the city’s second electricity station – was completed over a century ago, in 1907, for the station that supplied Moscow’s new tram lines. Even as a powerhouse, it was a decorative and graceful structure: a long facade of two-story windows and five arches under a pointed roof, decorated at one end with a spire in the shape of a cathedral. It was refurbished by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, which retained the original airy industrial aesthetic yet modernized it in every way, from installing energy generation and conservation technologies to upgrading. in place of facilities to make, display and enjoy virtually any form of art.

The expansive interior – over 35,000 square meters (375,000 square feet) – has both enormous and intimate spaces for exhibitions and events. There is a section for children called l’Atelier with a forest and a workshop-playroom; a cinema; a spacious artistic production center with shops for working wood, metal, plastics, ceramics and textiles; photography, audio and video studies; an engraving studio and a 3D printing laboratory; a large library and coworking spaces. Artists, teachers and other staff will provide advice and assistance, and in-house residencies will begin after the New Year. Each space is equipped with the latest technology, from the printing rooms to the cloakroom, which works with countless electronic claim tickets.

Alexander Avilov / Moskva News Agency

Alexander Avilov / Moskva News Agency

GES-2 envisages a wide program of educational activities, some in collaboration with several universities in Moscow. True to its mission of making contemporary art more accessible, “mediators” will help people navigate the exhibitions and use the facilities; a tour promises to help visitors overcome their fear of contemporary art. The facilities are also as accessible and inclusive as possible, with descriptive audio guides, tactile models and large print for the visually impaired; video clips in sign language for the hearing impaired; full accessibility for people with physical disabilities; and sensitive assistance for neurodivergent people.

Seasons at GES-2

Even the organization of events at GES-2 is innovative. Every six months or so, GES-2 will start a new “season” – a global theme or topic that will be explored in many different media, activities and projects. All the seasons will be part of a larger story. “Holy Barbarians, or Both Are Worse” is the first story GES-2 will explore, as it is indeed the history of post-Soviet Russia, its contradictory and complex relationship and image of Russia and of the West, in which Russia is seen – often by its own people – as barbarian or saint, or both.

Makeup actors "Santa Barbara."Michèle A. Berdy / MT

Actors made up for “Santa Barbara”.
Michèle A. Berdy / MT

The first season begins with Russia’s first media obsession, the American television soap opera “Santa Barbara”, which appeared on Russian television in 1992. Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson has already started his project “Santa Barbara – A Living Sculpture “, a re-filming of a season of the soap opera” Santa Barbara “shot in Russian with local actors in a studio on the first floor of the building. It will be a point of contact for examining Russia’s relations with the West and its development path.

“We start with ‘Santa Barbara’ because that was the beginning,” Mavica said. “Contemporary Russian art began 30 years ago. This is where we start to ask ourselves, “Who are we?” And “Where are we going?” “”

Several exhibits already mounted on the lower level reflect Kjartansson’s interest in repetition and series in art, and what they reveal: sketches of a model made every day in various poses, from artificial to unguarded. , cover a three-storey wall; a display of Pantone colors in different forms fills another room; and a row of video screens showing Ragnar Kjartansson and his famous actress mother, separated several years apart, are lined up in another room. In each video, the two silently stare at the camera straight ahead, then Kjartansson’s mother turns and spits on him. It’s shocking, funny and terribly confusing.

Another project explores images and concepts of carnival in Russian culture, which includes handmade costumes floating on ceiling hangers and a series of photographs.

Michèle A. Berdy / MT

Michèle A. Berdy / MT

The project “In Moscow! In Moscow! In Moscow!” includes a video installation titled “Terrible, Terrible”. It seems to be just a video of the hall of the Tretyakov gallery with the painting by Ilya Repin “Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan on November 16, 1581”. But suddenly, a man attacks the painting with a knife and is then pinned to the ground by guards and taken away while an older woman, the warden of the room, worries helplessly. Even when you expected it to happen, what else could it be? – it’s confusing. It will serve as a topic for discussions on the power of art.

But not everything is designed to shock. Next weekend there will be an exhibition and store of ephemeral vintage clothing, a comedy night and the start of a film program called “Time Machine 1986-2000” featuring films from Russia and others. country.

A very large opening

During the 30 years of Russia’s New History, Moscow has seen the construction or reconstruction and opening of thousands of buildings, including the Zaryadye Concert Hall and the Moscow City Business District. Ribbons were cut, photographs were taken and stories were broadcast on the news. But nothing has matched the excitement and celebration of the opening of GES-2. President Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin made a television tour a few days ago. Journalists requested accreditation for the press tour. An invitation to the grand opening night was a coveted sign of prestige.

Everyone tried to guess how much it cost. Mavica was only saying, “I didn’t pay it myself, so I don’t know exactly. But it was incredibly expensive.

Vladimir Putin during a visit to the House of Culture "GES-2".

Vladimir Poutine During a visit to the House of Culture “GES-2”.

Marat Gelman, one of the first owners of a contemporary art gallery in Moscow, told the Moscow Times: “Overall this is a fantastic development for Moscow. It will completely change the art scene. But he doesn’t foresee a cloudless future. “The Kremlin really wants to follow a Chinese model where they completely freeze all political development but want a thriving commercial and cultural scene that rivals the West… I think the center will become a gathering place for free-thinking artists and creators. . Ultimately, this could become a real headache for Mikhelson.

But for now, it is the calling card of contemporary art in the capital. Like Yuri Pimenov’s famous New Moscow painting of a young woman driving a convertible through the recently rebuilt, rain-washed city center, GES-2 is the New Moscow in 2021: gloriously beautiful, at the cutting edge of technology and looking to the future. and full of hope.

Additional reporting by Pjotr ​​Sauer.

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