09 September, 21

Russian Art Focus Prize announced the laureates of the first award for journalism about Russian contemporary art

Award winner in the Best Publication category Theo Merz; member of the jury, Anna Somers Cocks, founder of The Art Newspaper; Inna Bazhenova, co-founder of the prize and publisher of Russian Art Focus; Anastasia Spirenkova, a member of Agitation, winner in the Best Research category; Jo Vickery, editor-in-chief of Russian Art Focus; Nicolas V. Iljine, jury member, curator and publisher

The award ceremony of the first Russian Art Focus Prize took place in Vienna at viennacontemporary and the laureates in two nomination were announced.

Theo Merz - the winner in the nomination “Publication on Russian contemporary art” for the text “A tribute to the Russian avant-garde sets off a storm” published in The Economist in 2019.

Agitatsia research group - the winner in the nomination “Research paper on Russian contemporary art” for the text “Party of the Dead: Necroaesthetics and Transformation of Political Performativity in Russia during the Pandemic” published in ArtMargins.com in 2021.

Dmitry Aksenov and Anastasia Spirenkova (Agitatsia research group)

Theo Merz is a British journalist who has worked in Russia for the last four years, reporting for outlets including Agence France-Presse, The Economist, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, and VICE. As well as covering politics, diplomacy, healthcare, the climate, and LGBTQ issues, many of his stories have focused on the arts, in particular the persecution of cultural figures by the state. Theo previously worked as a journalist in London and Hong Kong. He recently returned to the U.K. to take up the position of deputy foreign editor at The Telegraph.    

Agitatsia group is a research community dedicated to political performance art practices, actionism and art activism, which has been collaborating since July 2020. Its members are: Dasha Filippova (Tallinn/NYC) – artist-scholar, Pavel Mitenko (Moscow, Russia) – philosopher, performer and researcher, Anastasiia Spirenkova (Paris, France) – researcher, curator and producer, Antonina Stebur (Minsk, Belarus) – independent curator, Vera Zamyslova (Moscow, Russia) – researcher and art historian.

The Russian Art Focus Prize organized trips to Vienna for the winners - Theo Merz came from London and Anastasiia Spirenkova representing Agitatsia group came from Paris. Founders of Russian Art Focus Prize Inna Bazhenova and Dmitry Aksenov awarded them with the diplomas and certificates for 3000 Euros each.

Prior to the ceremony members of the Russian Art Focus advisory board and the Prize Jury Hans Ulrich Obrist, Anna Somers Cocks, Ekaterina Chuchalina and Nicolas Iljine together with Russian Art Focus editor-in-chief Jo Vickery took part in the public talk ‘Contemporary Art in the Word. Reflections on Writing About the Visual Arts Today’, spoke about the challenges and opportunities in the field of art journalism and criticism. Hans Ulrich Obrist joined the discussion online, wished that the Russian Art Focus Prize becomes a kind of a “book machine” and added that the award initiative will definitely bring fruits in the long run.

The ceremony concluded with a special surprise project in which all the participants in this first edition of the Russian Art Focus Prize and some members of the public who first arrived at the ceremony in Vienna were given a special NFT of Dmitri Prigov’s ‘Citizens’ Addresses’ created from his 2004 video performances. This was made possible due to the collaboration of the Dmitry Prigov Foundation and The Art Exchange blockchain platform. The concept behind the project was to celebrate the connections between the written word and the visual arts which the Russian Art Focus Prize embodies. For more information on this project please see a separate release.

Russian Art Focus Prize would like to give special mention to Ksenya Gurshteyn’s Research paper "Yuri Albert: Always Getting It Wrong" and Andrew Freeburg’s publication “Institutional Memory: Stepping Inside DAU’s Documented Fiction” which received significantly high marks from the jury.

Open call for the second Russian Art Focus Prize will start in the beginning of 2022 at www.rafprize.com, the award ceremony is planned to be held at Venice biennale of contemporary art.

I am really glad that Russian Art Focus set up this award. So much coverage on Russia is about corruption, authoritarianism and the oppression of the independent media, and most of my journalist work is focused on that. But when it is the only thing that is written about Russia then people outside it have a distorted idea of what is going on in the country, and as we know there is great art here and amazing cultural centers outside Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is great to be able to write about it and that there is an extra focus on it with this award
Theo Merz
We are thankful to the editorial board and the jury of the Prize for appreciation of our collective work and generally for the support of the independent interdisciplinary research. Our group does not have any grants or funding, it was all made with love and curiosity for the contemporary art and for something that may stay unknown and undervalued
Anastasia Spirenkova

Russian Art Focus is a digital media exploring contemporary visual art in Russia, with occasional reporting from post-soviet countries.
Founded in November 2018, it means to bridge the gap in timely, politically uncharged reporting from the region and bring deep analyses of the Russian art market, profiles of young and established artists, coverage of the major events and interviews with movers and shakers to the English-speaking audience. In 2020, Russian Art Focus launched the YouTube channel to feature video interviews with selected artists. The videos are shot in Russian with English subtitles. Since February 2021 Jo Vickery is the editor-in-chief of the magazine.

The media was founded by Inna Bazhenova, the owner and publisher of The Art Newspaper, and Dmitry Aksenov, the founder of The Aksenov Family Foundation. On the advisory board of Russian Art Focus serve Nicolas V. Iljine, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Anna Somers Cocks, Samuel Keller, Jean-Hubert Martin, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Mikhail Piotrovsky, and Zelfira Tregulova.

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