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CosMoscow International Art Fair: A New Hybrid Format

by Elena Rubinova

In spite of the pandemic and strict safety guidelines, the 8th CosMoscow International Art Fair (from 11th to 15th September 2020) was a huge success. According to the Fair’s press release, 62 galleries from Russia, Germany, France, Estonia, Poland, Georgia, Austria and Italy took part in the Fair and was attended by a total of 9,600 people – the maximum possible number, given the restrictions. The Online CosMoscow platform with an expanded list of participating galleries at the end of the Fair in Gostiny Dvor was visited by more than 11,500 unique users with close to 200,000 number of views. After the Preview on September 10, international and Russian galleries announced successful sales. The Young Gallery Window Project (Tbilisi) became one of the bestsellers on the first day itself. One of the works of Peres Projects (Berlin) was acquired for an impressive amount, and HORS-CADRE (Paris) and Galerie Emanuel Layr (Vienna / Rome) sold several works each in the segment from € 5,000 to € 10,000. The prices at the CosMoscow Fair in Gostiny Dvor this year ranged from € 15 to € 182,000.

artamour is delighted to bring to its readers a review report by the Moscow-based art journalist,

Elena Rubinova, who covered the Fair extensively.

Welcome to the Fair: At the entrance

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

In September Moscow traditionally marks itself as one of the hottest destinations for contemporary art lovers, but this year the new season had a special flavour.

And it is easy to guess why. Many other art fairs in the rest of the world have been postponed (even Miami Art Basel that takes place in December) till next year due to the pandemic, but the CosMoscow organizers decided not to cancel or reschedule the event. Following safety guidelines from the Moscow government, the 8th edition of CosMoscow held at the Old Merchant Court (Gostiny Dvor next to the Red Square) opened on 11 September 2020 in a hybrid format – offline as well as the online platform available for customers for even a longer duration than a live event.

The fair gathered gallerists, artists, experts, and collectors, albeit with few foreign participants and restrictions on local visitors. CosMoscow’s core audience, many of whom are regulars on the international art circuit that was aborted this year, came to the Fair even from other regions of the country to support their favourite artists and galleries in person.

The Fair attracted a sizable audience in spite of the pandemic

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

The Moscow Fair cannot compete in scale and diversity with the industry leaders such as Art Basel or even the regional ones such as Art Dubai, but its role as Russia's only international contemporary art fair with its own spot in the international art calendar cannot be underestimated. This year the event organizers had to reduce the number of foreign participants but expanded the program with Russian exhibitors, as well as special and partnership projects.

In spite of closed borders, some galleries from Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Rome, Tallinn, Warsaw and Tbilisi managed to get works by their artists to Moscow and represent them using their Moscow-based partners and local staff. Some galleries such as the Belgium Almine Rech Gallery, Mexican Karen Huber, British White Space, and Sirin Copenhagen from Denmark were among the online participants.

“We are especially glad to be here this year despite the challenges of international trade and exchange. We have six international galleries with us without being physically present. Olga Temnikova of Temnikova & Kasela Gallery (Estonia) and a member of the Fair’s Expert Council made enormous effort to get here with a visa of ‘foreign experts’. There are additional internationals that can be found on Cosmoscow online,” said Simon Rees at the Fair opening. A total of 62 galleries (55 of them Russian) participated in the Fair, showcasing over 300 artists.

Cosmoscow Founding Director Margarita Pushkina and the Art Director Simon Rees at the opening

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

Cosmoscow 2020 presented a dynamic mix of Russian and foreign artists that spans generations. Peres Projects, from Berlin, showed fresh pieces by Donna Huanka and Richard Kennedy, while Tallin’s Temnikova & Kasela included installations by Estonian singer and conceptual artist Tommy Cash as well as photography by Olga Chernysheva, a representative of the generation of intellectuals that came of age in the late 1980s and later became one of the most acclaimed Russian artists.

Vitreous Papilla 2020 Oil, sand on digital print

by Donna Huanka, Peres Projects, Berlin

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

Wolf and Hare, 2020

by Tommy Cash, Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

Politically infused art has been a rare guest at Cosmoscow. A precious one was an attempt of Vienna Galerie Emanuel Layr to add serious conceptual flavour by bringing a well-known installation by a legendary Slovak neo-avant garde and conceptual artist Stano Filko (1937-2015). This iconic work is dated the year 2000 but has not lost its sharp connotation with rockets coloured in the tricolour of the Russian flag.

Rockets 5.4.3.D., C. 2000

by Stano Filko, Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna/Rome

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

Alongside works by Philipp Timischl and Lisa Holzer (Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna), Moscow public enjoyed the sculptures and computer animated videos by a young American artist Jonathan Monaghan and Aljoscha (represented by Anna Nova Gallery, St. Petersburg). Aljoscha’s installation was one of the many eye-catching objects presented at the Fair.

The Gates of the Sun and the Land of Dreams, 2017, Silicon, acrylic pigment

by Aljoscha, Anna Nova Gallery, St. Petersburg

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

His futuristic-looking acrylic objects and installations made of pigmented acrylic glass have both a sculptural and painterly quality. Aljoscha was one of the most expensive artists at this year’s Fair which comes as little surprise – the artist living in Berlin often exhibits his work in the West and successfully sells internationally.

“The Russian art market is very important for us and our gallery is the fourth time returnee to Cosmoscow,” said Tamuna Arshba, the co-owner of ‘Window Project’, a contemporary art gallery from Tbilisi that focuses on the promotion of Georgian artists or the artists of Georgian descent living elsewhere. “We have a lot of collectors and art aficionados in Russia who are well familiar with the Georgian art tradition – the history and culture of the two countries have been intertwined for centuries,” the gallerist emphasized.It’s very different from some European countries where we need to inform and enlighten the audience before entering the market. We’ve participated in Art Dubai three times but this year we were invited to Abu Dhabi. We are looking the East as much as the West that is perfectly understandable in terms of geopolitics.”

From the project “Sea, Sea, Swallow Me”, 2020, Mixed media by Uta Bekaia (Georgia)

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

Among other works, the gallery brought to Moscow toy-like sculptures by Uta Bekaia, a US-trained artist, who returned to his motherland a few years ago and now divides his time between New York and Tbilisi. The artist works across media, doing ceramics, embroidery and installations inhabited with wearable sculptures exploring his historical and cultural background, genetic codes and cycles of the universe. His sculptures created a spark among Moscow audiences and easily found their new owners.

Pensar en ti, Canvas, acrylic and pastel,

by Marcos Anziani, Askeri Gallery, Moscow

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

Lyrical abstractions by Marcos Anziani, a young American painter of Dominican descent, were exclusively represented in Russia by Askeri Gallery (Moscow). The abstract compositions on the display were sprinkled with the elements of expressionism and somewhat reminiscent of Kandinsky’s art – no wonder they created a buzz among Russian collectors.

Ruarts Gallery (Moscow) has previously brought expositions of many world-renowned foreign artists to Russia such as Spencer Tunik, Erwin Olaf, Nobioyoshi Araki to name a few, but this year they participate in the Fair with a monographic stand with the works by Dmitry Aske, a versatile artist from Moscow, who has been in the making since 2000 – first as a graffiti writer and later as a graphic designer and contemporary artist.

Mnemon, by Dmitry Aske 2020, Mosaic relief, cardboard, spray paint

Image courtesy: Ruarts Gallery, Moscow ©Ruarts Gallery

The art fair organizers managed to keep the non-commercial programme traditionally rich. One of Cosmoscow’s special projects was created by Pavel Otdelnov, 2020 Artist of the Year (annually selected for the Fair). He presented a commissioned project, Geolocation, please? Choose yourself – a series of reflections on ex-urban, non-places and changes in the outskirts of large cities. In the project conceived during self-isolation, Otdelnov turns to virtual images: landscapes seen through the cameras of Yandex and Google cars.

From the project “Geolocation, please? Choose yourself “, by Pavel Otdelnov

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

Another special project was “Salon Vert” by Margo Trushina, a UK-trained artist of Russian descent and a Ruinart Art Patronat grant winner. This mythical garden created as a site-specific installation was commissioned before the pandemic but absorbed a new meaning during self-isolation of the artist who spent months outside Moscow working on the project. “I was mostly interested in interspecies communication and find out how we, humans, communicate with the plant world. I consider plants as other persons. I also wanted to explore the sound that we can connect to a plant – we usually think that plants are something silent or take them as a background – so I tried to create an interactive soundscape. I decided to activate plants by using my vision of different materials, give them ‘sound’ and be responsive to us,” the artist said in her interview.

A fragment of the installation Salon Vert, by Margo Trushina

Image courtesy: Margo Trushina

Margo added that the pandemic unexpectedly boosted her soundscape idea. In the beginning of her self-isolation she was stuck on a small island in Thailand. She started recording “voices of nature” in the jungle, so all sounds in the installation are natural. On returning to Moscow she announced an open call to people who grew plants on their balconies and windowsills – that’s how many of the elements came to her. It took her a week to put this installation together preparing for the Fair. Now that it’s over, many plants will go back to the people who contributed to the project. Next year, the artist has a similar project planned in Mexico where she hopes to re-enact the installation with local plants.

A fragment of the installation Salon Vert, by Margo Trushina

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova

The Fair also offered a rich parallel programme launching a satellite – Blazar Young Art Fair – that took place at the Museum of Moscow and a general discussion programme called Cosmoscow Talks. The recurring theme of the ‘Cosmoscow 2020 Talks Program’ was the question of how, under the current circumstances, we could co-exist and get unite despite fully or partially closed borders and growing cultural isolationism. Other vital subjects in focus were the innovative online strategies – how to connect galleries with collectors, introduce new artists online, and make the most of a digital art fair booth.

Human Project, Episode # 66, by Kerim Ragimov, 2020, oil on canvas.

Image courtesy: Gisich Gallery, St. Petersburg © Gisich Gallery

The collectors demonstrated so much excitement and enthusiasm to acquire art that shortly after the closure of the Fair its organizers announced that businesswise Cosmoscow 2020 turned out to be one of the most successful in its history (the final sales figure was yet to be announced at the time of this review going to print). Apparently, the quarantine period helped realize that contemporary art gives a feeling of much more freedom than money, and that it is possible for us to join this freedom.

A few more snippets from the Fair

Photo credit: Elena Rubinova


Elena Rubinova is a Moscow-based art journalist working across media, professional philologist, teacher, and translator. She started her career as an English language teacher before joining ABC News as a translator and producer. She has produced documentaries for BBC, National Geographic, Arte, Discovery Channel to name a few, including the three-part series The Art of Russia (BBC2, 2009). She has been a regular contributing writer for Russian magazines and on-line media such as ArtandYou, Artguide, Dialogue of Arts, International Life, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russia Profile, Passport Moscow.

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1 Comment

Ranjan Kaul
Ranjan Kaul
Oct 09, 2020

Great review!

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