Contemporary art in Siberia: Art Radar guide

Make the most of your next visit to Siberia with the latest Art Radar guide. 

Siberia is a vast land that is home to only a third of Russia’s population. The word ‘Siberia’ comes from the Tatar word for ‘sleeping land’. However, this is far from the truth, especially when it comes to the region’s thriving art scene. We bring you a guide highlighting art galleries in some of the larger Siberian cities.

Blue Noses, 'Era of Mercy', 2005, photograph. Image courtesy Art in Russia, A Project of the School of Russian and Asian Studies, SRAS.

Blue Noses, ‘Era of Mercy’, 2005, photograph. Image courtesy Art in Russia, A Project of the School of Russian and Asian Studies, SRAS.

Siberia’s inhabitants were creating art as far back as 5000 years ago, as can be seen from engravings recently discovered in a makeshift ancient gallery on the 4506-metre high Altai Mountains at the border between China and Mongolia. Contemporary Siberian art is often influenced by the ancient cultures of the Siberian nations.

Contemporary art in Siberia is viewed as “a powerful accelerator to the mind, enriching and speeding it up”, according to Anna Tereshkova, the Director of the Siberian Centre of Contemporary Art in Novosibirsk. Tereshkova also added that for Russia, art is “the frontman for Russian culture and its leading voice”, despite the Siberian government regarding “contemporary artists with quite a suspicion”.

Visiting Siberia: the basics

When to visit

In the winter, the weather is -25°C on average, but with lows of -60°C in some locations. The locals tend to wrap up warm in fur coats, fur hats and leather boots. The houses stand raised on top of concrete blocks in order to avoid the foundation freezing over in the permafrost. However, heating is state funded so museums and galleries will be warm on the inside – if you can manage to walk to them. Summers are much milder, with an average temperature of +17°C.

There is very little inhabited land in Siberia, most of it taken up by the taiga, the boreal forest. Sakha (Yakutia) is the coldest region in the whole of Siberia, so it is definitely best to explore Yakutian art in the middle of the summer.

Where to stay

There are 1,081 hotels in Siberia. Finding lodgings should not be a problem, although the services and standard of rooms will vary, and will not always be up to the international luxurious benchmark. The Lonely Planet guide provides reviews of Siberian hotels.

Siberia’s best hotel is based in Siberia’s largest city. It is the Marriot Hotel in Novosibirsk, which opened in 2014 in the city centre, a short walk from the Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Hostels are also advertised on the Lonely Planet guide, for those looking for a cheaper option, with prices starting at GBP18 per night. However, if safety is your priority, it might be best to stick to large chain hotels with security and safe boxes in the hotel rooms.

Another option is to stay with a host family. People in cities live in large blocks of flats. Remote villages still contain old style wooden houses, where people spend their days fishing and nights reading, telling stories and drinking vodka. Specialised websites are available online for staying with hosts in city flats. If you want to try the traditional way of living, you might be advised to befriend the locals, and ask around.

Getting around

The Trans-Siberian train covers most major cities in Siberia. The price is USD80 for second class from Moscow to Novosibirsk (this takes 2 days). A cab from an airport to a city would set you back about USD20. To fly into Novosibirsk from Moscow costs USD100 one way.

Every Siberian city has public buses, trolleybuses, minibuses and sometimes even the metro. A trip on public transport is likely to set you back roughly USD2.

Rodina exhibition, May-June 2012, installation view. Image courtesy SCCA.

Rodina exhibition, May-June 2012, installation view. Image courtesy SCCA.

Where to see contemporary art in Siberia

Siberian Centre of Contemporary Art (SCCA) | Novosibirsk

The Siberian Centre of Contemporary Art (SCCA) opened in 2011. The exhibitions and art events are funded by the Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Art. The Centre shows off the best of the Siberian art elite, in addition to educating the Siberian public about international art.

The gallery was first created by Anna Tereshkova, who used to be the director of the Old Town gallery (the first Novosibirsk art gallery). The inspiration to create a new gallery came due to Anna wanting to show contemporary art separately. She wanted to help to promote exciting new groups like Blue Noses, who whilst being recognised and appreciated worldwide, were completely unknown in their motherland, Siberia.

The Centre puts on a variety of events. For instance, in 2012, it organised the Land-Art Festival, which involved artists creating works on the banks of the scenic Novosibirsk Reservoir.

Andrey Chikachev's painting. Image courtesy eYakutia.

Andrey Chikachev’s painting. Image courtesy eYakutia.

National Arts Museum of The Republic of Sakha | Yakutsk

The National Arts Museum of The Republic of Sakha is predominantly a classical Russian art museum, with a collection of paintings by Levitan, Polenov, Tropinin, Shishkin and Aivazovsky, amongst others, while the second floor plays host to exciting modern art exhibitions. The Museum also holds artworks of the ancient Yakut culture. The large classical building with a calm atmosphere lends itself well to large scale events such as the International Night at the Museum.

The Night at the Museum 2014 involved opera and Russian poetry performances, as well as piano recitals in the grand museum surroundings. Also, in 2014, the museum introduced an interactive element to the exhibitions, whereupon the second floor exhibition paintings were transformed by holding a tablet in front of them.

Between September and November 2014, the museum took part in the 3rd Biennale of Contemporary Art of Yakutsk (BY14), along with the Yakutsk Ministry of Culture, Urgel Art Gallery and the Arctic State Institute of Art and Culture, among others. International artists were hosted in various art spaces in Yakutsk. The aim of this themed event was for local and internationally acclaimed artists to work together and to exchange artistic viewpoints. The main theme was water, which makes sense in a region containing the Lena river, the ninth largest river in the world.

Famous artists who have had their work exhibited at this museum are Andrey Chikachev and Mikhail Starostin. Chikachev’s expressive paintings focus on the daily happenings in the lives of Yakutian villagers. Starostin’s work creates light-hearted impressions of Yakutian life; his pieces are modern with a hint of tradition.

Dashi Namdakov, 'Tiger and Bird', lapis Lazuli and bronze, 97 x 141 x 62 cm. Image courtesy Halcyon Gallery.

Dashi Namdakov, ‘Tiger and Bird’, lapis Lazuli and bronze, 97 x 141 x 62 cm. Image courtesy Halcyon Gallery.

Buryatia Republic Art Museum | Ulan-Ude

The Buryatia Republic Art Museum is one of the most famous museums of Eastern Siberia. It was opened in 1944 and holds a variety of paintings from the classics to the modernists. The museum contains around 10,000 pieces of art, such as paintings, sculpture, jewellery, decorative arts and graphics. The directors of the museum are very keen to promote modern Buryatian artists by guided tours for visitors, talks and film screenings. Buryatian artists who have exhibited here include well-known masters, such as Zoritko Dorzhiev and Dashi Namdakov.

Zoritko Dorzhiev presented his solo show called “A Year in the Life of a Painter” at this museum in 2010. Dorzhiev is one of Russia’s most famous artists. His work uses bright colours to bring humour to Buryat life. His main focus is on the nomadic lifestyle of warriors on horseback and the Buryat villagers. He has also worked in film, designing sets and headdresses for films about Mongols and Buryats.

Dashi Namdakov is a sculptor, painter and jeweller. Buddhism has had a large effect on his approach to art. One of Namdakov’s most famous pieces is a large stone wall decoration, which the sculptor carved in memory of a Buddhist monastery. This piece has traditional images of totem animals, horse riders, magical women and nomads carved onto it. Namdakov uses bronze, silver, gold, iron, jewels, mammoth bone, horsehair and wood to make sculptures, jewellery, graphic images and goblins based on traditional Central Asian and Buddhist motifs.

Olga Kamenkaya, photograph from her book 'Baikal. The Kingdom of Water and Ice'. Image courtesy the artist.

Olga Kamenkaya, photograph from her book ‘Baikal. The Kingdom of Water and Ice’. Image courtesy the artist.

Gallery DiaS | Irkutsk

Gallery DiaS was created in 2009 by Diana Salatskaya. It holds over 2000 pieces of art. The collection comprises art from all over Siberia. In 2011, the gallery took part in the international project called “Person and the City”, dedicated to 350 years of the city of Irkutsk. The gallery owners helped to organise a large conference about the art and culture of Siberia.

Diana Salatskaya is not only the director of the gallery but also a benefactor – she has organised a variety of stipends to support popular artists. The gallery is also interested in collaboration, and has previously worked with the Siberian Ministry of Culture, Irkutsk Archives, the Irkutsk Art Union, and with various Siberian and Russian galleries and art schools. In 2011, the gallery played host to a fantastic exhibition by Olga Kamenkaya. Her underwater images showed an unusual way of thinking and seeing Lake Baikal.

Elizabeth Kaplunov

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Related Topics: Russian artists, art guides, art tourism, museums

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