Russian Modern Art – MMOMA

I stumbled across the Moscow Museum of Modern Art [MMOMA] one snowy day in December. That day happened to be New Year’s Eve, a national holiday in Russia, but I felt so drawn to this place that I made the effort to return a few days later, when I was lucky enough to get free entry (for a week during the New Year holidays many public museums and galleries in the city offer free entry, and entrance to MMOMA is also free of charge on the 3rd Sunday of the month). Having previously explored the big names like the Tretyakov Gallery and Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, I wanted to find somewhere that branched away from the vast murals and gilded icons that featured on the walls of such classical galleries, and MMOMA did not disappoint.

The gallery has collections divided between five venues across the city, ticket prices for which vary. I visited the main gallery on Petrovka Street, a beautiful 18th century mansion building situated opposite the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery. As you enter the courtyard beyond the main gates, a small but impressive sculpture garden is revealed, featuring various metal depictions of Russian figures, such as Kazimir Malevich and his (in)famous ‘Black Square’.

‘Kazimir Malevich’ by Zurab Tsereteli

The museum is dedicated to Russian art of the 20th and 21st century, and features a variety of collections throughout the year that fill the rooms of the 3-floor gallery space, with each exhibit exploring different themes connected with society, religion and life in modern day Russian, providing contrasting narratives that complement one another well. When I visited [January 2017], I found three very different exhibitions, from an exploration into the history, theoretical teachings and works of The New Reality, an underground Soviet abstract art movement, to a solo show of Irina Miklushevskaya’s contemplative seascape paintings, to the dark, architectonic works, focused heavily on form and symbolism, of Michael Schwarzman. Personally more drawn to the diverse display, and fascinating insights into the theories of abstract symbolism, of The New Reality, I still found it striking that the gallery had arranged such contrasting exhibits within one space, so that each room encapsulated a different story and asked the viewer entirely different questions.

The museum provides guided tours in both Russian and English and hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including lectures, open studio showings and discussion panels. Before you leave the gallery, take a minute to step into the giftshop, where you can find a really great collection of books, comics and magazines about Russian art as well as some quirky gifts and souvenirs of Moscow.

The relationship between artist and audience

Whilst MMOMA indeed hosts a great and diverse collection of modern art, it will of course particularly appeal to any visitor interested in the evolution of specifically Russian modern art over the past century. 20th century Russian art, uniquely shaped by the political background and consequential cultural implications of the Soviet Union, tells a distinctive narrative of the creative struggle in a time of censorship and artistic oppression, whilst we see a more hopeful reconciliation with the past and freedom to look towards the future in more recent works. With such thought-provoking and engaging exhibitions, MMOMA has taken its place as one of the most memorable galleries that I have visited in Moscow, and I would certainly be eager to return.

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