Last week in Moscow, Karlie Kloss stood at the opening of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art as if she were just another Muscovite in an expensive frock, trying to get to the museum’s exclusive rooftop. In her defense, she was in the land of the long-legged; perhaps those jostling for entree just assumed she was a mere civilian.
But her presence is a sign that the art world’s ever-expanding Silk Road has a new stop on the route, thanks to Dasha Zhukova’s Garage, the first contemporary art museum in the Russian capital since the fall of communism. Its shiny new headquarters is a $27-million redesign of a spiffed-up Soviet edifice brought back to the future by the architect Rem Koolhaas.
Three years after Zhukova commissioned the building (the cost of which was covered by her and her partner, the billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich), it was unveiled to a lucky few Wednesday morning, all 65,000 square feet of it. The ghosts of its previous life—a gigantic Gorky Park restaurant called Seasons of the Year—peeked through a restored mosaic tiled wall that greets visitors at the entrance.
“The building was already here,” Koolhaas, on-brand in Prada sneakers (he is one of Miuccia’s favorite collaborators), said before leading a private tour. “We were interested in preservation, not the pressure to create an eccentric masterpiece.”
Preservation aside, the architect’s brand of eccentricity is indeed present through the space, from the sleek metal slabs that traverse the building to the exposed steel stairways crawling up toward the ceiling. To inaugurate the space, there’s the unapologetically pop, selfie-inducing polka-dotted madness of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Theory, her first appearance in Russia, and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Tomorrow is the Question, which consists of ping pong tables designed to pay homage to the cult Czech conceptual artist Julius Koller. The tables hosted happy paddle-wielders—some professional, others decidedly not.
“Would you like to play?” Tiravanija asked. “The last time I played in a tournament, I was out in the first round.”
Why not? As we warmed up, volleying back and forth, he explained that the work was indebted to Koller’s fascination with the game of table tennis, as well as the history of the game in Russia. Plus, it’s fun.
“You’re getting better!” he said, before casually winning.
(“You must be a really bad ping pong player,” Gavin Brown, Tiravanija’s dealer, said when he heard the score.)
“Moscow is perfect, because it’s right in the middle between London and China,” explained Wendi Murdoch. The collector was sitting with Zhukova, Olympia Scarry, and the jewelry designer Jennifer Meyer. Kloss talked breathlessly about Apple’s Worldwide Development Conference, which she had attended a few days before, halfway across the world.
Even Abramovich, who is close enough with Vladimir Putin that Kremlin officials refer to him as “Mr. A,” was in the mood to chat, albeit very briefly.
“Is the new Garage museum everything you hoped for?” I asked.
“Yes—and that’s it!” he said. He slapped me on the back and walked away.
(Still, a rarity: “When have you ever read a quote from Roman Abramovich?” an artist asked later.)
On to the after parties. On the roof of nightclub Krysha Mira, there were collectors Tico Mugrabi and Johnny Pigozzi, young power dealer Joe Nahmad, and of course Larry Gagosian, who had just flown in from Spain where the traveling Jeff Koons retrospective just opened at the Guggenheim Bilbao. “It’s the best space for the show yet,” he declared.
The next night, back at the museum, Zhukova hosted what was billed as an intimate dinner for, well, 250. Among the guests were a few unexpected faces: George Lucas, Arianna Huffington, Woody Allen. (Rumor has it that Woody incited an all-hands-on-deck situation at the Pushkin Museum, when the entire staff had to help him locate some erotic paintings in toilet bowls he had seen there in the ’70s.) The crowd then made its way to #LOL, a nightclub festooned with glowing hashtags, two hundred fish tanks embedded in the walls, and the biggest disco ball in Europe.
And then on Friday, those who hadn’t already left for pre-Basel trips to St. Petersburg (or Zurich or Athens), attended a double birthday party for Svetlana Marich, a director at Phillips auction house, and Olga Sviblova, the director of the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow. Held in the MAMM foyer, it had all the fixings: caviar, vodka shots, big men in chef’s whites carving up bigger planks of smoked salmon. Upping the ante were six Russian singers belting vocals over instrumental versions of song selections that were legitimately bonkers (“Mambo No. 5”!).
“This is just like something you’d see in Brighton Beach,” the artist Nate Lowman decided. “But, you know, better.”