Gallery Girl meets Osnova

Alena Kurmasheva by Alyona Vinokurova for

The art scene in Moscow is growing and shows no signs of stopping. It is now home to Russia’s only international art fair and an internationally celebrated biennial. Thanks to Dasha Zhukova – wife of Roman Abramovic – there is now even a multi-million pound gallery lying in the heart of Moscow’s most central Gorky Park, designed by Rem Koolhaas, Garage Gallery of Contemporary Art’s glittering façade entices Muscovites inside to visit its exhibitions. Gallery Girl caught up with Alena Kurmasheva, co-founder of Moscow’s acclaimed Osnova gallery, to speak about Moscow’s burgeoning appetite for contemporary art.

Founded in 2014, Osnova specializes in international contemporary art with a focus on emerging and mid-career artists. The gallery is located amongst the Winzavod art-cluster, a centre for contemporary arts that is situated in a complex of seven industrial buildings that allows the gallery to engage with the local artistic community. Osnova means ‘the basis’ in Russian, with it being important for Kurmasheva to choose a name that was both easy to pronounce and spell, as well as it also being elegant and memorable.

The decision to open the gallery, which Kurmasheva runs with her partner Dmitriy Vetrov, was made after already having worked in contemporary art for a number of years. The pair took the plunge to open their own permanent location with Kurmasheva explaining: “We just realized that there will be no other opportunity and another second chance. We found this amazing location and started our program here.”

A true businesswoman, Kurmasheva operates a diplomatic approach to working and forming a relationship with her artists: “Gallerist relations should always be based on mutual trust and respect. We are partners, working as one team. We could be friends, but we must never forget that we are doing business first.” Her curatorial approach is to invite the artists into the gallery to discuss their work however, she insists that it is for herself and her partner, and not the artists, to curate Osnova’s exhibitions.

On asking about her experience working as a woman in the arts in Moscow, Kurmasheva explains that women are at the forefront of the art scene: “It seems that in Russia there is more amazing women working in contemporary art then anywhere else. It’s something very natural, even the most important museum institutions are masterminded by women.” What Kurmasheva says is true, where women struggle to make their voices heard in western art institutions, such women as Irina Antonova and Marina Loshak (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts), Maria Baibakova (Baibakov Art Projects), Olga Sviblova (Moscow Multimedia Art Museum) and of course, Dasha Zhukova, are challenging their male counterparts when it comes to the arts in Russia.

Earlier this month, Osnova participated in Comoscow, the only international art fair in Russia. Founded in 2010, the fair aims to bring international and Russian collectors together under the same roof as artists, galleries and gallerists. The 2017 edition was host to 38 galleries from both Russia and abroad, and welcomed over 16,000 guests. Osnova’s participation at Comoscow was obvious: “For me the main idea of running a gallery in Moscow was to start a dialogue with other cities and countries.’ Thus Osnova’s presence at fairs plays a vital part in the process of raising its international presence. The gallery also attended Code Art Fair in August in Copenhagen, Denmark: “We had the opportunity to meet important international collectors, curators and fair directors to share our ideas and tell them about our artists. Now they are interested in coming to Moscow to explore our art scene here.” Kurmasheva also applauds the Collaborations section at Comoscow, which invites galleries from abroad to take part in the fair: “It’s very important to include international galleries to the Moscow art scene.” She stresses that “Europe should trust Russians more”, and with its interest in welcoming galleries from overseas to Moscow, it seems that international galleries would be silly not to engage with the opportunities that Russia is creating for artists from overseas.

So, having recently returned from Code and Comoscow art fairs, what is on the agenda for the future of Osnova? “We have our exhibition schedule for the next six-months fixed, with many more interesting projects to negotiate. We are also plan on participating in more international art fairs’, says Kurmasheva. Osnova will also start an online editions platform and has exhibitions planned later this year with photography and installation artist Andrey Bogush, as well as the first ever gallery show for neo-conceptual artist Ian Ginsburg.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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