Russian Billionaire Leonid Mikhelson May Upstage Dasha Zhukova in 2019

Mikhelson is making waves in Moscow's contemporary art scene.

Rendering of Leonid Mikhelson's planned Moscow contemporary art gallery. Photo courtesy of Renzo Piano.
Rendering of Leonid Mikhelson's planned Moscow contemporary art gallery. Photo courtesy of Renzo Piano.

For the latest in contemporary art in Moscow, the first name that comes to mind is generally Dasha Zhukova, founder of Moscow’s recently-opened Garage Museum for Contemporary Art. But Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, whose net worth is $14 billion, according to Forbes, may be looking to change that.

Mikhelson commissioned architect Renzo Piano to convert an abandoned power plant in Moscow into a massive new contemporary art gallery. The original building dates back to 1907, and after extensive renovations, it is slated to reopen in 2019.

The expansive space will include exhibition galleries, an auditorium, library, bookshop, and restaurant. Located in the formerly-industrial Red October district, the new art center is just part of the ongoing efforts to turn the area into a cultural hub.

Leonid Mikhelson. Photo: courtesy Skolkovo, Moscow School of Management.

Leonid Mikhelson.
Photo: courtesy Skolkovo, Moscow School of Management.

The billionaire’s fortune comes from Russian gas company Novatek, which has become an important supporter of the arts under his leadership, sponsoring exhibitions at the Tretyakov Gallery and the Kremlin Museum in Moscow, according to Bloomberg.

The V-A-C Foundation (short for Victoria, the Art of being Contemporary, after Mikhelson’s daughter), which Mikhelson founded in 2009, has become a major sponsor of the Venice Biennale, and is hosting its own satellite exhibition from Mark Dion and Arseny during this year’s edition. The foundation also funded Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s 2014 installation at the Grand Palais in Paris, as well as “Ostalgia,” a 2012 show of Eastern European contemporary art at the New Museum in New York.

Rendering of Leonid Mikhelson's planned Moscow contemporary art gallery. Photo courtesy of Renzo Piano.

Rendering of Leonid Mikhelson’s planned Moscow contemporary art gallery. Photo courtesy of Renzo Piano.

“When Victoria was a teenager and we were on vacation in Paris or London, I would say: ‘Let’s go and see a museum,'” Mikhelson told the Financial Times in 2013. “And she would be bored. She wasn’t interested at first.”

Eventually, his daughter warmed to the art, and became an important influence on her father, helping shift his collecting habits from 19th century Russian painting to contemporary art.

Mikhelson’s holdings, according to FT, include Pawel Althamer, Pae White, Gerhard RichterAndreas Gursky, and Louise Bourgeois, among others. The billionaire also helped bring Carsten Holler’s massive stainless-steel to the New Museum for its popular 2011 exhibition before joining the museum’s board in 2013.

Perhaps Mikhelson really will give Zhukova a run for her money.


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