Settled in the historic district of St. Petersburg, the New Museum is the first private museum of its kind in St. Petersburg. Local businessman, Aslan Chekhoev, opened the museum from the private collection he started twenty years ago. Opened in June 2010, the museum provides an exciting permanent collection of Soviet Non-Conformist art, as well as temporary exhibitions of current artists’ works. There is also a small selection of contemporary art collections and magazines in English and Russian.
The museum is almost unnoticeable in its location opposite the Vasileostrovskaya metro station. Nestled above shops, it takes up two floors of a renovated 19th century building along The 6th Line, a pedestrian avenue. The two floors consist of two rooms, each filled with a number of moveable walls that redesign the shape of every exhibition. The heart of the collection covers the second half of the 20th century. Before the museum opened, there was very little art available from this time period in St. Petersburg. Most of these pieces were parts of underground art groups, painting in styles considered forbidden during the Soviet era. In the short time that the museum has been open, though, coordination with museums in Russia and the international community have broadened the exhibitions. Towards the end of 2011, Aslan Chekhoev coordinated with over 10 museums to exhibit a unique collection from a specific Soviet underground art group, the Arefevsky Group, a group of artists who helped document St. Petersburg life for decades while themselves lived in poverty.
Recently, the original non-conformist collection has returned to the museum with monumental pieces, such as Eugene Mikhnov-Voitenko’s “The Awakening.” Comparative to works by Jackson Pollock, the large painting consumes an entire wall of the gallery, strikingly placed just inside the entrance. “Yalta Conference: Judgement of Paris,” by Russian born Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid is a surreal painting, depicting Stalin, Hitler, and Roosevelt in the nude. Alongside this piece is Alexander Kosolapov’s “When I Was a Child I Worshiped Stalin,” , a socialist realist painting with a thick red line and the painted words of the title. Side by side, these two pieces form a deep satire on socialism. Opposite these pieces are fantastical, primitive works by Leonid Purygin, an outsider artist never accepted into an art school. There is also Pyotr Belenok, who pushed the limits of avant-garde with hyper-realism. In one small room, there is a lot to consider about the Soviet underground art scenes of St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Through March 2011, the second floor of the museum is displaying an exceptionally rich photo collection by local artist, Anatoly Belkin. The exhibition, “Characters,” reveals 70 of the most famous local artists of St. Petersburg. Belkin strived for simplicity and honesty in the exhibition, photographing artists in their workshops, sitting at park benches, or walking on the streets with only natural lighting. Each piece depicts either the personality or the medium of the artist. Local documentary film director Victor Tikhomirov is appropriately standing next to a studio camera. Vladimir Kozin, recently in the news for his environmentally-conscious artworks re-using rubber, stands in his studio with a rubber toilet and violin. Famed Bella Matveeva, an artist focused on eroticism stands with a nude woman behind her. Inna Olevskaya, an incredibly awarded artist of the Imperial Porcelain Factory is surrounded by her sculptures.
Others are displayed without any hint to the mediums of their work. Evgeny Ukhnalev, a painter and architect that spent 25 years in a Gulag camp, simply sits on a park bench. Vladlen Gavrilchik, who participated in the first exhibition of non-conformity art held in the Palace of Culture, is seated on his couch at home, focusing away from the camera to his messy table of food, a remote control, and drinks. Ivan Sotnikov, a painter, is rather striking, wearing all black and standing in a dark alley with his grey beard almost glowing in contrast. Zaven Arshakuny, known for his striking use of colors, is shown asleep in his bed.
The New Museum’s website describes “Characters” as photography of “the main heroes of the modern art scene in St. Petersburg.” It is an excellent supplement to the mission of the museum to provide modern art to the public. It is unknown what will come next to the New Museum, but it is sure to capture the rich history of contemporary art in St. Petersburg.
Details: Students (with ID) can get in for 100 rubles. All other foreigners must pay 200 rubles. Photography is permitted. See their website for more information. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesdays. On Wednesday through Friday, it is open from 11am-7pm. On Saturday and Sunday, it is open from noon to 8pm.