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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Fortnightly Haunt For Painters and Poets

Every other week -- more often, if there is a special reason -- a small basement on Liteiny Prospekt, right across the street from a cluster of the city's most interesting antiquarian book stores, is packed with people, cigarette smoke, art and ideas. Borei Art Center, one of the city's trendiest and most important intellectual/bohemian hangouts, is having another of its regular tusovki.

Borei started as just another gallery about three years ago, at a time when art galleries were appearing all over St. Petersburg.

The optimism evident in the flowering of the art business in the early '90s turned out to be premature, however -- more fanciful than real. Many of the galleries closed down; others look more like art stores than real galleries with a distinctive policy and image.

In this environment, Borei, from the very outset, had a face of its own: slightly idealistic and, contradictory to the very notion of an art gallery as a commercial enterprise, very noncommercial. At Borei, art is exhibited, rather than sold.

Well, occasionally it does get sold, but with the art market hardly existing in St. Petersburg, the gallery seems to be able almost not to care. The point is in being where it is and what it is. Being in the focus of the city's artistic life, it has been able to remain outside or above the countless intrigues and endless clashes of parties and personalities that seem to be intrinsic to every art community.

The location is crucial. Literally a few steps from one of the city's main intersections, on the same corner of Nevsky and Vladmirsky prospekts that for decades housed the Saigon cafe, a famous underground hangout, Borei in a way filled the void when the Saigon closed down. But unlike the Saigon, which was little more than a place where people could meet, Borei offers substance.

And lately this substance has been more than art exhibits.

Not content with the status of a gallery, Borei ventured into another, even crazier, area: small-scale publishing. Most of the editions are pocket-size books of poetry, fiction, drama and criticism.

With conscious dedication, Borei carries on the traditions of samizdat and the cultural underground -- a mission that for different but equally significant reasons seems to be as vitally important now as it was 10 years ago. Each of the new books becomes an occasion for a specific gathering: a presentation, for example, and/or a panel discussion. Books published vary from Vladislav Kushev's esoteric psychoanalytic play "730 Steps" to Viktor Krivulin's poetry, to rock lyrics by Sergei ("Chizh") Chigrakov, an heir to the poetic tradition of St. Petersburg rock.