Conversation With Maria Baibakova

Conversation With Maria Baibakova
Baibakova, the founder of the nonprofit Baibakov Art Projects (BAP) in Moscow, is the latest fresh-faced patron of the arts to make headlines in Russia. But with a masters in art history from London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, a cultural pedigree — her father, Oleg Baibakov, amassed a trove of contemporary art that she curates — and an impressive résumé including a stint as chief curator for the private foundation marka:ff, in Moscow, she is no flash in the pan. Here, Baibakova, who this month cochairs the 2009 Guggenheim International Gala, chats with Sarah Douglas.

How did BAP come about?

In April 2007 I toured the space, which was a working chocolate factory, and I was amazed by it. I had heard rumors that it had recently been bought by a developer, the Guta Group. So I met with the project’s directors, Anton Chernov and Artem Kuznetsov, and said, "Let me run an art space here, and it will rebrand the building as a lifestyle destination through the prism of contemporary art."

What’s planned for the fall?

We have two shows, which are part of the Moscow Biennale. One is a Luc Tuymans exhibition that debuted in April at Wiels — a similar nonprofit to mine, in Brussels. The show, "Against the Day," was organized by Wiels, but Tuymans is always involved in his exhibitions and adds context specificity to them. The second is of Paul Pfeiffers work.

Have you had to confront the stereotype of the Russian heiress, new to the art world, like Dasha Zhukova, who last fall opened the Garage Center for Contemporary Art?

Dasha and I are extremely dissimilar in the way we view what we do. I always have to make two columns: This is my education; this is Dasha’s. This is my program; this is her program. It’s a waste of energy. But I understand that the media need to sell stories, and I’m grateful for the press I’ve gotten. Russians need credibility from the West. When they see that a foreign journalist is looking at something, they say, "Oh, it must be worthwhile."

Aside from your first show, which included an installation by Russian artist Gosha Ostretsov, your exhibition program hasn’t spotlighted Russian art. And in recent years you’ve spent more time outside Russia than in it. How committed are you to Moscow and to Russian art?

My mission is to really make Moscow one of the global art centers. I want to make it so that Russian artists are no longer marginalized. We don’t think of Anselm Kiefer as a French-German artist or Sigmar Polke as a German artist. In my work, I want to engage on an international level, but I feel a commitment to include Russian art. I just don’t want to reinforce the idea that Russian art has to be separated.

How have things changed in Moscow with the recent recession?

There’s less hype. In recent years, there’s been a lot of market activity in Moscow, but it was all about hard selling and not about letting collectors develop into patrons who love art. Through my space, I want people to become emotionally invested in the art world.

"Conversation With Maria Baibakova" originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's September 2009 Table of Contents.