Simon Mraz is currently holding a position of the director of Austrian Cultural Forum and working on multiple Russian-European art projects.
Your secret art venue when you seek peace and quiet
My secret art venue when seeking peace and quiet is my home. Somehow it happened that I have had a chance to regularly invite Russian artists to show their works in my place, which turned my flat into an art venue welcoming everyone interested. Sometimes when it’s late in the evening, after guests have left, the art stays and it is truly wonderful to enjoy the works one on one. It is as if the art works have taken up the room the guests left, respiring and taking their full effect. There are more and more such “apartment” initiatives coming up, run by artists, curators, art lovers, and at least for Moscow I can say that these comparatively small projects together have possibly more influence on what is going on in the art in the city than big institutions. These projects are very flexible, fast and experimental and at the same time have a certain privacy in common. They give creative people a chance to meet and get to know each other, to develop a dialogue.
The Moscow Art scene is very dynamic, especially within the last months it has gained momentum. This momentum is taking place less in museums and galleries – there are great ones existing, but there just aren’t enough.
In Moscow the art market is still at the beginning of its development and it has a chance in creating an alternative new way. It’s truly wonderful, even as a tiny tiny element of the scene, to feel part of this whole movement with one´s flat as an exhibition space.
The best food experience in an art space
Overwhelmed by artistic impressions and acheing feet it is time to please the senses of taste, or the other way around. It is always a great idea to go and see art after a perfect lunch – it might be a hedonistic approach, but it is an issue and what, some years ago, was only about plastic-wrapped dry sandwiches turned into epicurean temptations.
Here in Moscow the best museum cafe is without a doubt at the Garage Museum (note that it is now located in a former Soviet restaurant). It offers really good salads. Also opposite the Moscow Jewish Museum there is a kosher supermarket with a great cafe, right behind it, which serves excellent sandwiches and falafel.
On a more international level, Albertina museum in Vienna has a great terrasse with excellent food and coffee. I also need to confess – fish and chips at Tate Modern might not be a very refined choice but definitely a ver good.
A museum gift shop that you never leave empty handed
Louvre, it is 80% books, and 20 % gifts, I always end up buying way too much when I am there.
Your museum with a wow-factor
Krayevedcheskiy Museum (kray is a geographical region in Russian)! You might not know what this is, but it is definitely phenomenal. This type of a Russian museum is an example of a precious cultural heritage of the Soviet Union. It is a regional museum existing in every big city in Russia. It is fascinating how these museums are at the same time museums of culture, art, nature and history altogether. However diverse they are they try to tell a story of a common past.
These museums are simple but complex at the same time. They are all related to each other, and by all means together they shape a great institutional experience. These are places where you can learn a lot and find truly interesting people who know so much about the past. One of my favorite Kvayevedcheskiy museums will always be the museum of Ufa (the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan) with a marvelous exhibition about the history of the Soviet Union, Russia, Bashkiria. Walking around the museum you have a chance to hold gold nuggets as big as a plate, learn about the Russian revolution and see a huge installation with local stuffed birds from the 70s accompanied by a casset recorded birds’ noise. I’m always touched by the stories of heroes and people who have formed that country and always selfishly hope that this museum will never be renovated and that it can keep its existing character and beauty.
Please share with us a special personal memory related to a museum experience
I remember with great pleasure my time in Milan, a city that on the first glance is more associated with fashion than with museums, and still, it is a wonderful museum city. I have vivid memories of the museum of the Castello Visconteo and their beautiful collection. They have one of the most fascinating sculptures on view, an unfinished marble, a pietà by Michelangelo as well as another marvelous sculpture, Jesus Christ on the Cross, a Medieval work, both incredible works of art. I remember walking between the two rooms where the two sculptures were exhibited, back and forth again and again. These two works were so different in their formal and stylistic qualities but they meant the same and offered depicitons of Christ. Wether it is a work by Michelangelo or an unknown medieval artist, there is something they have in common, something called an artistic genius which possibly only one or two persons in each generation can posess.