History presents itself loudly in St. Petersburg; in the grandiose shape of gold-domed churches and in the almost palpable sense of Soviet grit that has settled on the streets in between. But its contemporary youth culture simmers away quietly: in converted bread factories and underground tobacco stores. With these three key art institutions, we can begin to piece together the various parts that make up this multi-dimensional city.
Lara Favaretto, installation view, 2014. Manifesta 10, Winter Palace, State Hermitage Museum.
The Classic: The State Hermitage Museum
Based around the Winter Palace—formerly a residence of Russia’s tsars—The State Hermitage Museum is one of the world’s great art galleries, and also one of its oldest: founded by Catherine the Great in 1754. The gallery houses the largest collections of paintings in the world, spanning the Italian Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age, to French Impressionism, and of course, centuries worth of Russian art.
The Old Avant-garde: Pushkinskaya 10
Beginning life as a squat, St. Petersburg’s ramshackle and maze-like Pushkinskaya 10 emerged after the Soviet regime crumbled in 1989, to consolidate the non-conformist art culture that had been active below the surface for decades. Today it also promotes left-of-centre contemporary art, fosters a connection to the avant-garde of the early 20th century (Kandinsky, Diaghilev etc.), and, most pleasingly, is still the domain of old eccentrics and free-thinkers.
A 19-acre islet in the centre of the city, New Holland—and its complex of red-brick barracks and warehouses—has long been off-limits to the public. But in August 2016, it was opened as a new public park and St. Petersburg’s newest cultural destination thanks to a €400 million donation from Roman Abramovich. Abramovich’s wife, Dasha Zhukova—founder of contemporary art and fashion magazine Garage, and the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture in Moscow—collaborated on its launch exhibition of contemporary Russian art and is, in essence if not officially, the island’s creative director. May saw the launch of its summer season, where art shows are complemented by a program of concerts, performances and pop-up projects from local restaurateurs.