(L-R) Rem Koolhaas and Dasha Zhukova attend a briefing to reveal the full details of a new home for the Garage Center in Moscow which is moving from its original home. Garage is the most important contemporary art gallery in Moscow / Getty
Darya (Dasha) Zhukova is a prominent, beautiful and brilliant Russian art collector, connoisseur and gallery sponsor. She also happens to be the partner in life of billionaire Roman Abramovich and they have two children together; Aaron Alexander, born in December 2009 and Leah Lou, born in April 2013. One can certainly say Roman Abramovich is a lucky man, and I believe he would agree.
In 2008 Dasha Zhukova established an art gallery and cultural centre in Moscow called the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture. The Garage Centre is so-named as it was housed initially in a former Soviet era bus depot, the Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage. This well-known structure was designed in 1926, by the famous Russian “constructivist” architect Konstantin Melnikov. Constructivism is the term that was given at the time to art and design with a “social purpose”, which was popular in the early decades of the Soviet Union for obvious reasons.
The Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage designed by Konstantin Melnikovin 1926
At the Garage Centre Dasha put on a variety of exhibitions of contemporary art in the old bus garage, until she moved it last year to a much rejuvenated, and increasingly yuppified, location inside Gorky Park beside the Moskva river, and not far from the Kremlin in the heart of Moscow.
There, Zhukova housed the centre initially in a 25, 000 square foot temporary structure designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. This structure is nominally made out of paper (alright most likely cardboard) tubes, and it opened its doors in October of 2012. With a nice touch of symmetry, Gorky Park had also been laid out originally by Konstantin Melnikov, when it first opened in 1928.
When the park first opened it was intended to show Soviet workers how to spend their leisure time in a “cultured” way, with lectures, concerts, and sports facilities. Getting Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova involved in its renovation has clearly been a significant coup for Gorky Park Director Sergei Kapkov, the man behind the current revival of the park.
When Shigeru Ban’s temporary structure opened last Fall Dasha Zhukova said then at a presentation in the park:
“While we are a little bit homeless, we thought a temporary pavilion would be a good solution, ” Zhukova said. “I think this is a really beautiful pavilion and it’s really exciting for Moscow. There hasn’t been anything quite like this built here”.
Meanwhile the Garage Centre’s first home at the old bus garage is also being put to good use, having reopened again now as the Jewish Museum of Tolerance under the auspices of the Moscow Jewish community, and making full use of its wide open interiors for the lay-out of its exhibits of Jewish life in Russia.
Dasha Zhukova is now putting the finishing touches to the first permanent building for her new art centre at the park as well, now called simply: Garage Gorky Park. There she has been massively renovating a once famous 1960s “Vremena Goda” (All Seasons) restaurant that had stood empty and derelict for more than two decades. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, of the architectural firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, has totally re-designed the building to include exhibition galleries, a creative centre for children, shop, café, auditorium and offices.
New Garage Gorky Park – designed by Rem Koolhaas
The two-story building, with 60, 000 square feet of space, will have an open-plan ground floor and a more traditional gallery area upstairs. Transparent polycarbonate walls will allow views of the park all around.
Koolhaas’s design also goes to great lengths to preserve several of its crumbling original Soviet-era elements – including a large mosaic, and decorative tiles and some of the original brickwork. All the while incorporating a range of innovative architectural and curatorial devices to bring it firmly into the twenty first century and fit it for its new purpose as a showcase for the avant garde art it will be displaying, when it opens in a few months time.
The final phase of Dasha Zhukova’s ambitious plans for Garage Gorky Park then calls for expansion into the neighbouring “Hexagon Pavilion”, the purchase of which by her partner Abramovich has finally been announced. This structure traces its history as far back as the nineteen twenties and is a currently even more derelict than the Four Seasons building itself had become after being abandoned as a restaurant.
Designated a heritage site full renovation is planned for the over 90, 000 square foot area of the pavilion. It was first built in 1923 and consists of six sections built around a central courtyard. It was used initially as an exhibition center for Soviet era agricultural machinery. After a series of fires in the 1970s and 1980s it has remained unused ever since and left to basically fall apart.
The old “All Seasons” restaurant building in the mid-ground, with the Hexagon in the far background.
Last Fall, at the opening of the new centre in its temporary space Zhukova said “We are developing various concepts for the Hexagon, nothing is ready yet.” A year later that thinking is likely to have advanced considerably.
It will be quite exciting to see what they come up with as a design theme for the restoration. If it is as dramatic as what they have already achieved with the former restaurant structure it should make for an amazing arts complex when it is all done.
The Hexagon pavilion was originally designed by Russian architect Ivan Zholtovsky, later known for classical revival Stalin-era buildings. “It showed the first avant-garde art exhibitions, the first American cars, the first farm machinery, ” Anton Belov Director of Garage Gorky Park said. “We need to give it new life.”
The goal of Garage is to bring important international modern and contemporary art to Moscow, to raise the profile of Russian contemporary culture internationally and encourage a new generation of Russian artists. It also organizes and supports a wide range of cultural projects internationally.
Dasha Zhukova is the key driving force behind these initiatives, and with a supportive partner in Roman Abramovich much lasting good can be, and obviously is being, achieved.
About Dasha Zhukova
Darya (Dasha) Zhukova is a Russian socialite, entrepreneur, philanthropist, part-time fashion designer and now a major sponsor of the arts, where she finally found her métier.
Age 32, she was born in 1981 in Moscow. Her father Alexander Zhukov is a prominent Russian business man. Her mother is Elena Zhuokova a scientist and retired professor of molecular biology at the University of California.
After her parents divorced she moved to California with her mother. A child of a mixed Christian/Jewish marriage, Dasha Zhokova clearly cherishes both traditions but said in an interview once she identifies more with her mother’s Judaism. At any rate she went to a Jewish day school as part of her early schooling in the US.
Dasha graduated from UCLA in Santa Barbara with degrees in Slavic Studies and Literature.
In 2008, Zhukova founded the IRIS Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting contemporary culture.
It was through IRIS that she eventually launched the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture. After the current expansions in Gorky Park, a satellite edition of the Garage Centre is planned for New Holland island in Saint Petersburg as well.
Dasha is also a member of the board of trustees of the very prestigious LACMA – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Equally at home in Moscow, California, New York and London Dasha Zhukova lives with her partner Roman Abramovich and their two children.