Moscow Gets Own MoMA

Zurab Tsereteli, Mayor Yury Luzhkov's "first artist of Moscow," will open the capital's first Museum of Contemporary Art next week.

"We do everything too late in Russia. We overslept and missed things like museums of contemporary art. France, for example, has five contemporary art museums. Russia had none, until now," Tsereteli said. "For 70 years of Soviet rule, we could see only one type of fine art. All of the exhibits were identical."

Opposite the Vysoko-Petrovsky Monastery on Ulitsa Petrovka in central Moscow, an 18th century private residence has been transformed to conform to Tsereteli's somewhat flamboyant style: The three-story building is bright yellow, with an entranceway adorned with metal sculptures, various classical figures and what appears to be a smaller version of the artist's famous Giakomo Manzu sculpture.

"It's wonderful! One can find famous artwork by famous Russian artists Kasimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky here, as well as the work of foreign artists," private collector Sergei Shutov said on his first visit to the museum, which opens Tuesday and does not include a single piece by Tsereteli.

"This opening is a very significant event in Moscow cultural life," Shutov said. "We haven't another contemporary art museum in the city, or, perhaps, in all of Russia."

But Moscow does have one: the state-owned Tsaritsino Museum Contemporary Collection. But, unlike Tsereteli's museum, Tsaritsino has never had official Culture Ministry sponsorship. For years, Tsaritsino, which most art lovers feel plays a significant role in the life of contemporary art in Russia and abroad, has been unable to enlarge its exhibit space.

The Museum of Contemporary Art has encountered no such problems, yet f its collections are not yet complete and will be only in three months f but critics do not expect that it ever will.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is currently exhibiting donated work from Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery, St. Petersburg's Russian Museum and from state-run museums in Yaroslavl, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk and Nizhny Tagil.

Andrei Yerofeyev, head of the Tsaritsino contemporary collection, said that the Tsaritsino museum was approached and asked to donate work, but declined.

"I haven't the right to give a state museum's cultural valuables to a private museum," Yerofeyev said.

"Tsereteli is a good friend of the Russian minister of culture, Vladimir Yegorov," Yerofeyev said. "All of the pieces exhibited here were obtained on a Culture Ministry order from various other Russian museum collections."

Tsereteli, however, said that the museums, which will get their collections back after three months, donated work not because of an order but because doing so "is in their interests."

Artworks by such well-known Russian emigr? artists as Ernst Neizvestny, Oleg Tselkov and Mikhail Shemyakin were presented to the Museum of Contemporary Art by the private Natan gallery in New York.

These pieces, paintings from Tsereteli's private collection (by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall) and those donated by the artists themselves will remain at the Museum of Contemporary Art permanently.

But only one-tenth of the Museum of Contemporary Art's collection will be permanent.

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Tsereteli said, changes its exhibits "every three months and as often as every 20 days. We will do the same. That's why the [Russian] museum doesn't need a permanent collection."

Tsereteli, a native of Georgia and the current director of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, is well known in Moscow for his towering Peter the Great sculpture at the Moscow River, a six-story monument to multiethnic cultural interaction on Tushinskaya Ploschad and other such works, which have earned him a reputation among Muscovites that is not necessarily favorable.

"I think that people who come here because of the museum's name will be disappointed," Yerofeyev said. "The Tsereteli collection doesn't reflect the real contemporary art situation in Russia. The three months will pass, and then what?"

But Tsereteli has big plans for the museum's future.

"We'll have exchanges between foreign museums and ours," he said. "The next exhibit will be called 'Zabitiye Imena' ['Forgotten Names']. We've received new exhibit space for museum affiliates in Georgia, St. Petersburg and France. We have special agreements with UNESCO in France for joint French-Russian contemporary art education."

Future exhibits will include "Artists and Nature" and "Man."

"Even [American artist] Rauschenberg wants to exhibit here," Tsereteli said.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is located at 25 Ulitsa Petrovka. Metro Pushkinskaya, Chekhovskaya. Tel. 201-3665. Entrance is free.