Artistic collaboration brings Siberia to Brooklyn

American artist Rachel Owens appears with her installation at the 10th Krasnoyarsk Museum Biennial. Source: Press Photo

American artist Rachel Owens appears with her installation at the 10th Krasnoyarsk Museum Biennial. Source: Press Photo

Mikhail Prokhrov is known in New York as the owner of the Brooklyn Nets, but now the charitable fund that bears his name is bringing art from Siberia to the borough.

Last year, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) began a partnership with the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund to present a series of artistic works intended to introduce Americans to Russian artists and American artists to Siberia.

The program, entitled TransCultural Express, has taken a broad view of art, including in the inaugural season a literary evening with the Russian-American authors Masha Gessen and Keith Gessen, a film retrospective, dance company tours and a large-scale art installation by Irina Korina.

BAM and the Prokhorov Fund, which is based in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, worked together for the first time in summer 2012 with a tour of the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, which brought The Cherry Orchard to BAM. TransCultural Express, which is the Prokhorov Fund’s first partnership with a U.S. institution, grew out of that experience.

BAM, for its part, has a long history of collaborating with Russian artists, beginning with the 1909 performance at BAM of Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova. During the 1930s, there were tours of opera and ballet troupes and the Don Cossack Choir. During the Soviet era, the focus of the programs was on cultural exchange.

During the Soviet era, the focus of the programs was on cultural exchange. In the 1990s, however, when the Russian-speaking population of New York had reached tens of thousands, visits by Russian artists to BAM became a way to connect with the new Russia and tap into a nostalgia for the past. 

Irina Prokhorova, the head of the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund, who spearheaded the project, said that both concepts are present in TransCultural Express. “It is very important for us to showcase the vibrant contemporary arts of Russia today, particularly coming from Russia’s regions, and to experience the best of modern American culture. In BAM, we see a kindred soul and an ideal partner for this exciting exchange of cultures and ideas.”

She also emphasized that the fund does not only finance the arts, but also acts as an incubator for creative people and a generator of cultural events such as festivals, book fairs, and exhibitions. This aspect of the fund is evident in Krasnoyarsk, where it is one of the sponsors of the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair and the Krasnoyarsk Museum Biennale.

During 2013, the first year of the collaboration, TransCultural Express held several activities in both New York and Russia.  A week of contemporary Russian cinema was held at BAM sites and a restored copy of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Nostalgia was shown for two weeks.

The Philadelphia-based dance team IIIStyle & Peace Production brought its unique form of hip-hop, tap and beatbox to Moscow and Krasnoyarsk, where the group performed and held master classes. American artist Rachel Owens took part in the Krasnoyarsk Museum Biennale, which ran until the beginning of November, and a retrospective of films by Russian film director Alexei Balabanov, who died in May, is scheduled in BAM as part of this program from Dec. 3 to Dec. 10.


Alexei Balabanov: Last master of a bygone era in film from Russia Beyond The Headlines on Vimeo.

David Reilly from the BAM film program BAMcinematek said of the Balabanov retrospective: “[Balabanov’s] films constantly challenge audiences while balking at the latest aesthetic trends and critical tastes, which inevitably led to his marginalization on the international festival circuit. Our hope is that this retrospective will help inspire a newfound enthusiasm for what are certainly some of the most trenchant and indelible films of the post-Soviet era, many of which have never been released in the United States.”

According to Olga Vad, who is the curator of the project from the Russian side, this first year of the program has been a resounding success and negotiations are underway for the 2014-2015 program. “There is a very energetic process of exchanging ideas. BAM puts forward its proposals; our Fund offers own ideas; in the end, we are creating the program interesting to the audience both in Russia and the United States.”

Read more about BAM and TransCultural Express here.

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