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The Garage/The Garazh Centre for Contemporary Culture, Moscow, Russia

Monday 22 Sep 2008

Driving a passion for contemporary art

The Garage/The Garazh Centre for Contemporary Culture by WAN Editorial in Moscow, Russia
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Russia's newest centre for contemporary arts proves at 'it' venue with Moscow socialites 

Moscow’s burgeoning art scene received a major boost this week with the opening of a daring contemporary art gallery, founded by Roman Abramovich’s girlfriend.

The Garazh Centre for Contemporary Culture was the brainchild of Dasha Zhukova, the 27-year-old Russian heiress, socialite, fashion designer and girlfriend of Chelsea FC’s billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich.

The 8,500 sq m venue was originally a bus station, built in 1926 by avant-garde architect and artist Konstantin Melnikov. The main exhibition room, with its high ceiling and industrial aesthetic, has been compared to the Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern, London. It also features a library, bookshop and café.

Zhukova said: “Aesthetically I love the building. It’s absolutely beautiful. I love that it’s a perfect parallelogram.”

The gallery was funded by private donations but Zhukova has not yet disclosed whether Abramovich was a key benefactor.

Roman Abramovich’s interest in art was revealed in May, when he bought Lucien Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping and Francis Bacon’s Triptych for £17m and £43m respectively. However, neither work is on display at the Garazh, or ‘garage’ in English.

The project materialised extremely quickly - Zhukova first visited the depot in December. In June, Zhukova and Abramovich hosted a lavish party to preview the centre, in which singer Amy Winehouse performed for an hour in front of 300 people. The gallery officially opened on September 17.

The Garazh Centre is located in the leafy north of Moscow, a city with few public art facilities. Although the project has generally received a warm reception, Zhukova’s motives for founding the centre have come under scrutiny due to her apparent lack of knowledge about art. In an interview with the Guardian she could not recall her favourite artists.

Zhukova added: "I think I have always had an idea to open a contemporary art centre at the back of my mind. It wasn't until I saw this building that I realised this would be the perfect place to realise the idea."

The gallery’s first exhibition, Alternative History of Art and Other Projects, is a collection of large installation pieces by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, a Russian-born husband and wife team who currently reside in New York.

Oliver Ephgrave

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