s e p t e m b e r  4,  2012

Lately there have been too many anniversaries, big and small, in my life. Quite recently I posted the “Double Birthday” piece to my web-site, and here is another occasion. Perhaps, time to give it some thought.

On September 1 the Kovcheg (Ark) Gallery opened another exhibition season. Although I’ve not been immediately linked with the gallery for some time now, 19 years as its head give me reason to consider it a cause for celebration. Twenty-five exhibition seasons are a solid milestone for a Russian gallery: few exhibition grounds can boast such an achievement.

Kovcheg has a rich history. The gallery takes its origins from the exhibition hall of Moscow’s Timiryazevsky District. In the late 1980s city managers decided that culture should be brought closer to the people, and about 30 exhibition halls designed to take culture to the masses were urgently opened across the city. They all had to be staffed – and here we were, a large team of young artists.

In those faraway years the last thing we recent graduates of the graphic arts department of the Moscow Teachers Training Institute thought about was some picture gallery. What we needed was exhibition space to display our own works and those of our artist friends. It turned out, however, that few people except us and a small circle of our friends needed our exhibitions. People were far from eager to go out to Moscow’s outskirts to see works by unknownyoung artists. We could hardly become famous overnight, so we decided to put our efforts into promoting the exhibition hall. It was a tall task, too: the budget was niggardly and our wages ridiculous. One of our colleagues could only afford to buy a monthly travel pass for the commuter train to come to work from a nearby out-of-Moscow community. Strange as it may sound, the fact that we were young was another drawback:we were not kids, but not mature either, and many artists and inheritors were wary of dealing with young startup gallery managers.

Most of the newly-opened exhibition halls started with displaying pictures by local kids and “productions” of neighborhood pensioners. Shortly afterwards exhibition grounds began to be rented out en masse to artists who, riding the crest of Perestroika-period interest in all things post-Soviet, wanted to show off their works to foreign tourists willing to pay in hard currency. We took a different path in the belief that, by renting out our grounds, we will be unable to control the quality of works put on display, and that was what mattered to us.

The key principles of the exhibition policy of our hall did not take long to formulate:

-       We value tradition;

-       We take interest in our heritage;

-       We want innovation.

If my memory doesn’t fail me, these precise and pithy formulations were suggested by Sergei Safonov’s wife, Katya. It was also she who came up with the name Kovcheg. Rather, initially we discussed three options, but the final consensus was Kovcheg. However, that was a little later, when districts were replaced with administrative okrugs on Moscow’s map and exhibition halls were allowed to become independent.

There followed many interesting ideas and successful projects. A detailed history of the Kovcheg Gallery will yet be written, I think. I just want to congratulate all of my former colleagues and gallery staffers, who worked for it at different times, with our common anniversary. And I wish Kovcheg fair seas and a following wind!


kovcheg crew A Great Ship Needs Deep Waters. Anniversary Congratulations to Colleagues

On photo: Igor Chuvilin, Yuri Petukhov, Dmitry Smolev and Sergei Safonov, 2004. Photo by D. Krazayev