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19 Ноября 2012

Olig-Art for the Masses

IN A MOVE RIGHT OUT of the great American robber barons' playbook, a handful of business moguls in the former Soviet Union are building outstanding private museums that are open to one and all. These projects reflect their founders' taste and wealth and, let us not forget, will boost their legacy for centuries to come.

While art collecting is one of the ultimate expressions of status across the world, it holds special significance in a society long noted for its cultural passions. Private ownership of valuable artwork was looked at askance and sometimes outlawed by the Soviet authorities as recently as three decades ago. Now it's hard to find a tycoon in the region who is not amassing a serious art collection, and it's a pleasure to see the works at these galleries up close. With longer opening hours and zippier shops than those of their fraying state-run brethren, these spots are well worth a visit.

The Night Owl
Pinchuk Art Centre, Kiev. Part museum, part architectural showpiece featuring a penthouse cafe that turns into a swanky nightclub, Ukrainian steel oligarch Victor Pinchuk's Pinchuk Art Centre holds a privileged place at the center of the city's cultural life. The museum is located in a renovated 19th-century hospital that's packed with works by the usual contemporary international superstars—Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky and Takashi Murakami (pictured: "The Emperor's New Clothes")—and local talent such as Ukrainian artist Mykola Matsenko, whose hypnotic tile installations are inspired by folk art. But the most provocative exhibit might be the fifth-floor bathroom, a garishly lighted fun house with mirrors and windows that allow coy peeks between the men's and women's sections. 1/3-2, "A" Block Velyka Vasylkivska; pinchukartcentre.org

The Maverick
Novy Museum, St. Petersburg
Launched by energy-and-construction entrepreneur Aslan Chekhoyev (pictured left), this museum represents perhaps the most individualistic vision among Russia's private contemporary art museums—think a Russian variation on the Barnes Foundation. The 500 works in the permanent collection focus on Russia's nonconformist movement—underground artists active between the death of Stalin, in 1953, and Perestroika, in 1986. Highlights include a sprawling canvas of abstract symbols, "Tyubiki," by Evgeny Mikhnov-Voitenko—the first painting in Mr. Chekhoyev's collection and the one that he said launched his passion—and "Yalta Conference, Judgment of Paris," a neoclassical Dadaist painting by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid depicting Stalin, Roosevelt and Hitler in the buff. "I do this because I'm crazy," said Mr. Chekhoyev. "I'm not an oligarch, but I spend 50% to 60% of everything I make on this museum." Line 6th, 29 Vasilievsky Island; novymuseum.ru

The Behemoth
Erarta, St. Petersburg. This gallery boasts 2,000 works and adjunct galleries in cities around in world. It was opened by Marina Varvarina, the press-shy widow of murdered Russian lumber magnate Dmitry Varvarin. Located in a sprawling, neoclassical building, the museum's five floors are filled with works spanning every major school of Russian art since 1945. The museum also contains a series of "U-spaces" ("U" meaning "you")—intimate galleries where patrons make appointments to enjoy a variety of installations in solitude for 15-minute blocks. "Artists were the most free, creative people in what was a dreary Soviet city when my mother was growing up," said Vadim Varvarin, Ms. Varvarina's 26-year-old son, who runs Erarta's endowment. "When international barriers were lifted, a lot of these artists were moving overseas and making exclusive contracts with international galleries. We wanted them to have a space back here." Line 29th, 2, Vasilievsky Island;erarta.com

The Secret Gem

Institute of Russian Realist Art, Moscow. Media and real estate billionaire Alexei Ananyev's collection is located in a converted garment factory building on the south bank of the Moscow River. This vast museum opened last December and remains relatively unknown—a recent visitor had the place completely to himself late one afternoon. The complex features epic propaganda portraits of Lenins and Stalins amid adoring, kerchiefed babushkas and happy factory workers. Now stripped of their political urgency, these paintings are admirably naturalistic and romantic, if sometimes kitschy. Typical of the collection is work by the Ukrainian painter Isaak Brodsky, whose dramatic depictions of major scenes from the Communist takeover helped launch the Socialist Realism movement, which dominated Soviet culture from the 1920s through the 1980s (pictured: "Portrait of Kliment Voroshilov in His Office," 1929). 7 Derbenevskaya Embankment;rusrealart.ru