The opening of a new contemporary art gallery doesn’t typically cause a press frenzy that ends with an installation getting trampled. But that’s what happened on Tuesday, when Muscovite designer and “It” girl Darya Zhukova threw open the doors to her latest venture, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. As a wall of black-suited security guards and assistants protected Zhukova (known as Dasha) and her boyfriend, oligarch Roman Abramovich, an eclectic group crowded into the space, housed in an historic bus depot just north of Moscow’s city center.
The daughter of an oil magnate, Zhukova was relatively unknown a few years ago, but has become a media darling, as known for her model-esque looks as her high-profile relationship — and her proclivity for hosting fetes like the one in June, when she hired Amy Winehouse to sing at a dinner. Born in Moscow in 1981, Zhukova attended the University of California, Santa Barbara. She now lives for part of the year in London with Abramovich, who owns the Chelsea soccer club and has diverse business interests. As for Zhukova’s own ventures, she has said she’s behind a Russian-language gossip site, Spletnik.ru, and runs the fashion label Kova & T — a favorite of Kate Moss and the Olsen twins — with heiress Christina Tang.
The gallery is her latest project. “I’ve always had the idea of a contemporary art center in the back of my mind, but when I saw this building, it really clicked,” she says, clad in a smart white shirt, black Balenciaga skirt and towering Azzedine Alaïa heels. She says she isn’t worried about competing with Gagosian’s new Moscow gallery, which opened the day after the Garage, because they have different goals — hers is a not-for-profit.
At the earlier, daytime opening, gallery owners and other art-world types from Russia, the U.S. and Europe (one of whom brought a white-bearded Indian guru to dispense blessings) mingled around an exhibition by artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, which was coordinated by Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, formerly of the Gagosian London. Also in attendance were Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, and artist Nata Konysheva.
That evening, Zhukova threw a private dinner in the gallery for 500 guests including Larry Gagosian and Sir Nicholas Serota, director of London’s Tate galleries. There was no Winehouse this time: Young Russian musical prodigies performed instead.
Olya Thompson, a friend of Zhukova’s, says she admires the budding gallerist’s work for Russian culture — and, not least, her fashion sense. “It’s important to have a good walk in high heels, and she’s definitely got that down,” she says.