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The new art cluster MAKARONKA. Photo: Sergei Khachaturov

The Sixteenth Line 0

Sergei Khachaturov

A new art centre opened in Rostov-on-Don at the end of January. It’s named MAKARONKA and located in a former pasta factory. The process of gentrification (turning industrial areas into art centres) is spreading all around, but the introduction of MAKARONKA is an especially cool event. For one thing, it has become a focus of interaction among different kinds of arts, many of which are not exactly welcomed by the local cultural policy. In addition, MAKARONKA was born right in Rostov-on-Don, a city that has historically accepted a strategy of multicultural interaction.   

After a look at the quietly beautiful Don River, one can begin exploring Rostov at the Museum of Local Lore, on Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, or with a book, written in 1909, about one of the museum's founders, Aleksandr Ilyin. An exploration of sources will help in understanding the polyphony of historical life on the banks of the Don, next to the urochische (district) named Bogatiy Kolodez (Plentiful Well) – this is how the area was named by Peter the Great, due to the numerous springs and wells on the banks of the Don. First the Skythian civilization, then the Greeks and the Slavs alternated in reigning over this medieval-Italian-like town (much like Venice and Genoa), with Muslim epochs scattered in between. Starting with the 17th century, the Cossacks, a group of wild, free and bellicose people, were activated. They fought against the Turks and Tatars, and voluntarily accepted Russian rule and its ambitions. However, they could also easily turn against it. In fact, they were the prototype of what is now called the remonstrative movement

The city of Don began with the reign of Elizaveta Petrovna (Elisabeth of Russia): first as a fortified center, and later, as a fortress, built in honor of Dimitry of Rostov. Eventually, it turned into a prosperous provincial town, and now it is the centre of the Southern Federal District. It filled, and still fills, with various ethnic and cultural expatriates. One of the most powerful of these communities, located on the very borders of Rostov, is the Armenian community, which has been here since 1780. Here the Armenian Gregorians found shelter from the khans of the Crimea, and together with the Greeks and the New Don Cossacks, they established the city of Nakhchivan, right next to the border of Rostov. Now it is one of the districts of Rostov-on-Don. Sadovaya Street ends up right there, and the new art centre, MAKARONKA, also is located in this district. 

It’s not for nothing that Rostov has been called both Russia's Chicago and Don’s Babylon. And there is still plenty of action going on (indicated by the traffic jams on all of the central streets that last all day long). Demyan Bedny and Valentin Kataev even composed a poetic improvisation dedicated to Rostov, the liveliest city in the South of Russia.  

In a cultural sense, there is a point in talking about the most interesting mixture of different influences and traditions in Rostov. Let’s take a walk along Sadovaya Street, from the Museum of Local Lore to the former city of Nakhchivan. At the adjacent Chekhova Street, we will find a house in which the European part of the collection of Rostov’s Museum of Fine Arts is located (the Russian part is a little bit further, on the long, pedestrian-only Pushkin Street. The next object on Sadovaya Street is the Music Theatre. It is a powerful example of postwar international modernism. It is a bit similar to the Central House of Artists in Moscow, but with a roof that looks like an opened piano. Of course, it is only natural that the Music Theatre should look like a piano, right?

“Theatre–Tractor”. Created in the first half of the 1930 and rebuilt in the 1960. Photo: Sergei Khachaturov

The natives of Rostov have been fond of placing visual propaganda in architecture since the epoch of the avant-garde. An absolute masterpiece is the Gorky Drama Theatre, built in the first half of the 1930s. With the looks of a huge tractor with track-like windows, it was designed by Vladimir Shchuko and Vladimir Gelfreich (together with Boris Iofan, they were the winners of the final project for the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow). Its size can be compared to the huge scale of the Utopian projects of the Narkomtiazhprom. The formidable theatre stands in October Revolution Park, on Bolshaya Sadovaya Street and next to the former city of Nakhchivan; like a tank, it guards the border of the Old Town.   

All of this flamboyant and saucy multicolored and multinational cultural world of Rostov just had to take on a certain intellectual discourse. Those in power are timid and lazy, as usual. According to good-old Russian tradition, the art-process here has started only owing to the personal initiative of a learned “kulturtrager” and patron, the entrepreneur Yevgeny Samoylov. A philosopher by education, Mr. Samoylov has had a longtime passion for collecting art. His priority is not of the simplest kind – he prefers contemporary art. Right before 2012, in the house next to an old pasta factory on the 16th Line (the former city of Nakhchivan was planned-out in the 18th century, following the same pattern as Vasilyevsky Ostrov, in St. Petersburg), the 16th Line Gallery was opened. This stylish gallery was designed by an architect from Rostov itself – Yuri Krasnozhenov. As for its image, the gallery has an open space policy for all social groups. Both the bourgeoisie and yuppies alike can enjoy expensive art, along with a restaurant that features the chefs-d’oeuvre of European cuisine. 

The building of the 16th Line Gallery. Photo: Anna Astakhov

However, in order to realize the gallery’s business-program, one should patiently educate collectors-to-be, the future purchasers of strange art; this is common practice in Russia. That’s why, from the very first weeks of the 16th Line's opening, there has been an educational program available: master-classes, discourses, and two festivals (of video art and street art) have taken place. What’s more, in the Committee of Experts, alongside Yevgeny Samoilov and Tatiana Provorova, the director of the 16th Line, there are also two leaders of Sovrisk, the scientific employees of the Tretyakov Gallery – Kirill Alekseev and Kirill Svetlyakov, the artist Maria Sigutina, and German gallery-owner, Folker Dill. Besides South Russian contemporary artists – Maria Bogoraz (Belka&Strelka fluxrus art group), Aleksandr Selivanov and Oleg Ustinov – various cultural funds also participate in the projects. Thanks to them, and especially to the Goethe-Institut and the Stuttgart Institute of Cultural Relations, last year the gallery hosted an exhibition of Sigmar Polke's work, as well as the successful exhibition, Hostage of Emptiness, from the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.

In order for the art life of Rostov to not become sporadic, but to remain a full-scale process that reflects the entire variety of the cultural topography of the city, there was a need to establish a new multicultural entity. And MAKARONKA, which fits perfectly into an old pasta factory that has been stylishly modified as an art-centre, has become this perfect place. Its grounds are attracting visitors with crazy, monumentally large street-wall-paintings, some of which may even pose as competition for the as-yet-unidentified “Banksy”. 

The rooms contain workshops for artists who can either rent space at MAKARONKA, or work there in exchange for a fellowship, so that they can take part in the exhibition-life of the gallery. There is also a small theatre for 80 spectators (much like the one at Moscow’s Project Fabrika), and an exhibition hall similar to the one at the Winzavod centre of contemporary art, in Moscow. In late January, an exhibition of the work of a young art group from Rostov, SITO (СИТО), opened. It is an interesting, plastic experience of navigation, in the art informel-genre, on one of the city’s symbols of life: the Giant House in the industrial district of Rostov. At the theatre, the group Verbatim (recorded live conversation) presented the premier of their performance, Papa. 

Musical theatre. Photo:

Screenwriter, Lyubov Mulmenko, and director, Yuri Muravickiy, classify their performance as a trash-musical. Actually, it turned out to be an interesting ethnographic experience, almost a study on the popular psychology of actual Rostov natives. Again, all this uproar with the folklore of urban swear words is so “Papa” (the nickname for the city of Rostov, whereas Mama, of course, is Odessa): multicolored, multicultural, multinational and eternally immature, and completely entranced by the subject. It is a very frank performance, so it will certainly be deemed as taboo by the academic theatres. The academic ones, allegedly, will show Bezrukov as Depardieu (or, to be precise, as Cyrano de Bergerac). As a natural result, this newborn theatre, with the ingenious name of 18+ (the entrance is on the 18th Line, and the other meaning of “18+” can be easily understood) has been taken under the wing of the Moscow theatre, Театр.doc. In February, 18+ hosted performances by this independent theatre from Moscow.

The gallery's name, The Sixteenth Line, somehow resonates with the word “Sistine”. It’s not really a chapel, but it definitely gives hope to a new life for art in this city.