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Just a few years ago, this location was selling fur coats and holding strange-looking events. In 2016 a major refurbishment took place. Since then, the Manege team has managed to turn the space into the most interesting and innovative exhibition hall in Saint Petersburg. To learn more about the road to success and Manege’s future plans, we met with the director, Pavel Prigara. Here’s what he had to say.
Culture Trip: 2016 was a year of big changes for Manege. How did you manage to achieve such a great re-make? Which steps did you take?
Pavel Prigara: From the technical point of view, it is more correct to say that it underwent a renovation. We wanted to bring Manege to the highest modern technological standards, which we achieved. We also managed to change the purpose of Manege, expanding the program and the idea from just an exhibition hall to some sort of cultural institution, which works with diverse forms of art. This is an important step, as I believe, nowadays museums, galleries and exhibition halls are actively searching for new forms of communication with audiences. In such a way, the art institution gains more dimensions: it can become a cinema hall, a concert hall, an interactive space… so, this multi-functionality is one of the main characteristics of Manege today.
CT: From your experience, what is the key to success in the art world (for the gallery or museum)? Is just having an interesting exhibition program enough, or are there more elements like branding, marketing, PR, etc?
PP: I would say the most important is the team and people working on the project. Our symbol – seven pillars – symbolizes the space between the columns in the facade of the building, referring to the concept of emptiness. We are not proclaiming that we are developing Manege brand. On the contrary, we want to show that the most important part is what happens inside the space: master classes, concerts, special programs and more. So far, we’ve managed really well to create high quality content, which is something that attracts people. We do things differently and provide a feeling of freedom. We don’t have an in-house art director, most of our exhibitions are created by invited curators, so each time it’s a new story told by a new person. We do produce our own projects too, but they are in line with all our guest projects.
CT: What is on your current priority list for the exhibition program? Which projects are you focusing on?
PP: Well, currently we are getting ready for a big urban exhibition, along with a street art project called Wall Elements opening later this summer. Here we are talking about 70 Russian street artists, all united in one exhibition, which will be held both inside and outside of the exhibition hall. Among autumn plans, I would highlight a project on contemporary Middle Eastern art in association with the museum of Qatar. At the end of the year, we are planning to come back to the classics and showcase a wide selection of Russian sculpture.
CT: What was the most innovative exhibition you did in these two years?
PP: Oh, there were so many of them. Each exhibition had its own identity and concept. Last year’s spring exhibition ‘Chinese army’ featured contemporary Chinese artists; it was one of the outstanding projects in our portfolio. It was a very vibrant and unusual project from different points of view: the selection of art works, exhibition design, curator work and content. This exhibition brought up a really active dialogue by means of communication and social media, which is one of the crucial aspects in the frame of a contemporary art institution.
CT: Any big future plans? Where is Manege heading? Any big projects coming up?
PP: These two first years, we were all focused on creating a great portfolio for the exhibition hall. Now, after having had so many exhibitions, Manege has a strong provenance and we are ready to start big collaboration programs with international institutions and artists. 2019 is already promising some very exciting international projects along with a collaboration with the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, and 2020 looks even more interesting.
Also one of our ambitions is stepping out of the traditional thinking about St Petersburg being the artistic capital of Russia, and converting it into a significant artistic center of Europe, or even the world. In this sense, the city has great potential: the city of classic architecture, art masterpieces, museum collections and a huge cultural heritage.
CT: What do you think St Petersburg’s art scene is lacking?
PP: Boldness and courage. St Petersburg is quite a sceptical city, not very open to experiments. In this sense, any new projects, events, galleries and other art activities, even if they don’t turn out that good, should be very welcome and supported. Today, the city is starting to open up more due to the new generation of people and international influence, but it would still be great to see more variety and more experiments. We should not be afraid to make an error, we need to constantly move, searching for new and better expression forms instead.
CT: Do you consider Manege projects bold and courageous?
PP: Yes, I think so. For example, when we decided to put the beton rings (a special project by Vitaly Pushnitsky) in the city center as the part of the ‘New Ruins’ exhibition, the first reaction was of surprise and almost negativity. We saw it change completely once we actually started doing the project, and we received positive feedback in the end. It created a new inspiration for other art scene participants. With all our projects, we try to push the boundaries, experiment and create the space for dialogue.
CT: Are there any St Petersburg artists you believe foreign art lovers absolutely must know?
PP: Vitaly Pushnitsky.
Special thanks to Pavel Prigara and Darina Gribova for organizing this interview.