The Art Newspaper reports that Moscow's answer to the Venice biennale has begun, like everything else that happens, with the support of Putin's government. According to Sophia Kishovsky's account, the reason is p.r.:
"The Russian government apparently also has a real interest in the biennale, underscoring its political significance as an image booster for Russia, which has been slammed for backsliding into Soviet ways...Mr Backstein said he had had difficulties in persuading the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum's formidable director, Irina Antonova, of the necessity of the biennial, but convinced her by arguing that support for this kind of art fully accords with the Russian concept of intelligentnost or 'culturedness.' Mrs Antonova's most (unintentionally) conceptual exhibition hitherto had been a large show of Gina Lollobrigida's sculptures in 2003."
Modern art was banned by Stalin and modern artists were shot or sent to the Gulag. There is only one modern art museum in Moscow, a personal project of the controversial sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, who based it on his personal collection and included many of his own sculptures, including a giant Jesus and memorials to Anna Ahmatova and Vladimir Vysotsky, among others.
I went there the other day, a couple of days after visiting the stark and depressing Sakharov Memorial Museum, with its rows of KGB files and maps of the Gulag, a few weeks after visiting the Meyerhold house museum, where Meyerhold was actually arrested and killed on Stalin's orders.
So, while I find some American modern art museums off-putting, and American contemporary art not too appealing, strangely I discovered my trip to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art to be deeply moving, and would recommend it to anyone coming to Moscow.