Dasha Zhukova – famous for being the daughter of a Russian oil magnate, a stunningly beautiful celebutante, and for almost single-handedly piloting a Russian art renaissance through the operations of her outstanding Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow. And today really is, in the words of Alison Myners chair of the ICA, ‘absolutely Dasha’s day’, as she reveals the major new plans for Garage in collaboration with OMAmazing architect Rem Koolhaas.
Having opened in 2008 to high acclaim, and quickly becoming the hub of a nascent Russian contemporary art scene, Garage is now upgrading, making a move from the suburbs of Moscow to its monumental centre in Gorky Park. For this purpose, Rem Koolhaas – who by his own admission, ‘would not have become an architect without my first visit and exposure to Russia’ – has been enlisted, and today he and Zhukova came to London to show their hand to the world.
‘Garage Gorky Park’ – with an estimated completion date of 2012 – will occupy a radical renovation of the Soviet era Modernist-style Vremena Goda (Seasons of the Year) building, now fallen into severe dereliction. According to Koolhaus the choice of building and renovation takes ‘polemic with the current art world where art institutions are getting bigger and bigger, and continuously more luxurious’ – a trend ‘culminating ‘with the building that you all know’, said Koolhaas, coyly refering to the image of the Tate Modern displayed on the slide projection behind his head. Instead OMA’s design works on the principle that ‘Scale is not necessarily productive for art’, with the spaces being ‘generous’ but nonetheless maintaining fundamentally ‘human’ proportions.
Perhaps most importantly the design self-consciously honours the history of the original building, not only retaining key elements of the original Soviet-era design (with OMA’s main addition being an innovative polycarbonate outer skin), but also preserving the extant fragments of decorative tiles and eroded brickwork to create a highly textured, complex context for artworks, in the place of the now-conventional white cube.
This decision to pay homage to – perhaps even to enshrine – the pre-existing 1960s Soviet architecture is motivated by a desire to ‘intervene’ in what Koolhaus describes as ‘almost a holocaust’ committed against buildings of the period. And this ‘rescue’ mission has a profoundly symbolic resonance for Moscow, a city currently weighed down by a history that is ambiguous and at times deeply troubling – as a effort, in the words of Zhukova, to ‘define a new Russian identity’; ‘a contemporary identity that’s taking in the past – not ignoring it – and with it making a new future.’
Words: Thomas Keane / Photo: Paul Carter Robinson © 2012 ArtLyst
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