Russian contemporary art pioneer embarks on $ 2 million project to restore Isaac Levitan’s former Moscow studio


The ruined studio in its current state
Photo by Natasha Polskaya

Vladimir Ovcharenko, pioneer of the Russian Contemporary Art Gallery who runs the Vladey online auction house, bought the old ruined studio of 19th century artist Isaak Levitan with an obligation to restore it and is considering to transform it into an art space.

The studio, where the artist lived, is 440 m away. annex of a pre-revolutionary mansion in the Ivanovskaya Gorka district of central Moscow, which has now become a center of interest for both conservationists and developers. It was last used almost ten years ago by the Russian Academy of Arts.

Ovcharenko unexpectedly entered the scene, after seeing artist Egor Koshelev’s Facebook post draw attention to the studio’s plight. It was a costly endeavor – Ovcharenko won a public tender for the building with a bid of just over 61 million rubles (around 808,000 USD) or around 73 million rubles (around 967,000 USD) with TVA, beating strong competitors. Now he has to restore it within seven years and is currently looking for options, including one based on a never-completed Soviet project from the 1960s. The total costs will amount to at least an additional 150 million rubles (nearly $ 2 million USD). ), its commercial capital and its loans financing the project.

The studio as it was
Courtesy of Ovcharenko

“It was a fair competition,” he says The art journal. “Whoever bids the most is chosen. We had a few competitors, but we were able to win and we are delighted. I think our auction experience helped us make the right bid. “

Ovcharenko, who describes the result as a “win-win” situation, says he has a specific goal, not a strategic plan. He established one of Moscow’s first contemporary art galleries in 1990 and says his business has done remarkably well after the initial shock of Covid-19, launching online auctions. Unlike museums in Moscow, shopping malls were not closed during the last museum lockdown which began in November.

Artist Isaak Levitan at work in the studio
Courtesy of Ovcharenko

“I’m used to taking action,” he says. “It was not a strategy to go into development or buy out all the studios of famous artists.” Levitan, a master of landscapes, was a member of the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers or Itinerants) group of progressive realist artists, and is revered in Russia to this day. “When you find yourself there, you feel that spirit of art still there,” despite the decrepit state of the studio. “The architecture, the location, the history are all conducive to the art of living there.” Ovcharenko anticipates that the exhibitions will start there in the summer, after connecting the electricity and heating, although the full restoration will take much longer.

He hopes the investment in space will pay off, “having an additional effect on the art market” and attracting new audiences.

“Levitan was important for his day,” says Ovcharenko. “We will continue with artists who are important for today, so the spirit of contemporary art will stay there.”

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