With both the appetite for contemporary Russian art and U.S.-Russian relations at a low, it's a strange moment for "the first arts organization to bring contemporary Russian art to international audiences" to set up shop in New York City. Yet Gallery Shchukin just opened a 3,500-square-foot space in Chelsea with an exhibition that only added to the oddity: works by Aladdin Garunov, who was born in Dagestan, the Russian republic best known here as the ancestral home of the Boston Marathon bombers.
Gallery owners Nikolay and Marina Shchukin are undaunted. "We are here because of the energy of the American market," she said. "And we didn't think about the politics because his art is quite the opposite to what is happening in the world. He thinks that people should know more about other cultures, and his art is not connected with any thought of terrorism." Matthew Drutt, an independent curator in New York who is working with the gallery, actually chose Garunov, she added.
The Shchukins aren't novices. He is the great nephew of Sergei Shchukin, whose famed collection was appropriated in 1917 and now resides in the State Hermitage Museum and the Pushkin Museum. The couple has operated a gallery in Paris since 1987, maintain an office in Moscow, and claim credit for helping establish the careers of Sasha Semenov, Andrey Shchelokov, Vladimir Migachev, Natalia Zaloznaya, among others. They began searching for a space about 18 months ago and settled on one opposite David Zwirner Gallery. At the end of May, Shchukin will put his own drawings by artists including Natalia Goncharova, Alexei Kruchenikh, Mikhail Larionov and Rosalia Rabinovich on view at the National Arts Club in New York.
But Alexandre Gertsman, who has been selling Russian art for more than 20 years and owns a gallery in NoHo, said this market has not yet recovered from its fall in 2008 and noted that at the higher end in particular "most buyers are predominantly Russian-speakers." Ingrid Hutton, whose Leonard Hutton Gallery has long shown Russian Avant-Garde artists like Kandinsky and Popova, "applauded" the Shchukins, but added, "It's not easy to do, but if he has enough money behind him, he might succeed. Art today is so global, so international."
Indeed, while the gallery's next exhibition, in July, will include the works on paper Shchukin is lending to the National Arts Club, supplemented by others for sale, after that "the gallery will not show just Russian art," Ms. Shchukin said. "We want to show artists from different parts of the world." Last year, she added, they even exhibited an American artist in Moscow – it turned out to be David Datuna, who was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, but now lives and works in New York.