Abramovich's girlfriend opens Moscow gallery

Darya Zhukova, the girlfriend of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, opened a new art gallery in Moscow on Tuesday. She hopes the Centre for Modern Culture, or 'Garage', will house the work of aspiring young Russian artists and rival London's Tate Modern or the New York MOMA. The vast 8,500 square metre exhibition space is a former bus garage, and an avant-garde masterpiece in its own right, which is mentioned in most Russian textbooks on architecture. Zhukova's decision to turn it into a gallery most likely saved the historic building from demolition.
Darya opened the gallery at a closed ceremony, where the press clambered to photograph the young brunette and her rumoured fiancée. Zhukova and Abramovich rarely make public appearances - their relationship is a closely guarded secret and though the Russian tabloids take it as a given, they have not publicly admitted that they are engaged. When Darya opened a fashion boutique in Moscow last year Abramovich didn't attend.

Garage Darya is a relative newcomer to the world of art, and she's not shy to admit her lack of experience. "I don't claim to be a big connoisseur, but I know a lot and really love art. I've liked to paint since I was a child - though my biggest admirer was always my grandmother."

When asked by a British journalist who her favourite artists were she said, "I always found it hard to remember names."

Explaining the idea behind Garage, she said artists shouldn't have to go hungry, and art shouldn't be out of reach for ordinary people.

Roman Abramovich funded the gallery, and has so far bought two paintings to start its collection. The oil billionaire and former governor of a remote Siberian region acquired Francis Bacon's 'Triptych' and a Lucian Freud nude for an undisclosed sum at auctions before donating them to the Centre.

The opening was preceded by one of Europe's most glamourous parties of the year - the Serpentine Gallery's summer bash in London. The event, which was attended by art and fashion elites like Damien Hirst, Naomi Campbell and Sophie Ellis Bextor, was hosted by Darya, and only Abramovich knows what the bill came to.

The party continued in Moscow, where singer Amy Winehouse was said to have been a guest of Zhukova.

Russian husband-and-wife team Ilya and Emilia Kabakov were the first to exhibit in Garage. Seventy-five year old Ilya and his partner, 12 years his junior, have been living in the United States since they emigrated twenty years ago.

Ilya Kabakov is perhaps the most easily recognisable Russian artist on the world stage. He creates sprawling "total installation" pieces, often attempting to recreate the visual culture of the Soviet Union.

Jet-setting Zhukova and the reclusive Kabakov make an odd team. Before the gallery's opening Kabakov moaned to a Russian cultural magazine, "Yeah, the glamour troupe is on its way. Here comes the pink scum."

Ilya and Emilia's "An Alternative History of Art" is being shown in its entirety for the first time. The installation is a museum in itself, consisting of 23 rooms of paintings by fictional 20th century artists.

Inside the exhibition space Garage is also showing "The Gates", a collection of twelve moody paintings depicting an archway in Kiev.

A tribute to the Soviet Realist movement of art is on show in the form of the Kabakovs' "Red Wagon", a mock-up of a railway carriage complete with music and artificial scenery.

One of the Kabakovs' best known works, a concrete reconstruction of a typical Soviet communal restroom, transformed into a living quarters, also made the trip to Moscow. It recreates a piece of Soviet Union history as if frozen in time. It is called simply "The Toilet".

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Abramovich's girlfriend organizes Moscow Kabakov retrospective

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