A New Chapter for Gorky Park
Walker, Shaun, The Independent (London, England)
Roman Abramovich is a key backer of plans to transform Moscow's historic but rundown green space. By Shaun Walker
Gorky Park is a fairly depressing place these days. On a visit earlier this week, saccharine Russian pop music blasted from loudspeakers at the entrance, grubby kiosks sold lukewarm hotdogs and the tacky rides stood shuttered and empty. Just a handful of visitors trudged along the pathways, lined with piles of half- melted dirty snow. A harassed young mother dragged a screaming toddler along by the elbow, while a teenage couple in matching black tracksuits engaged in frenzied groping on a bench.
But there are ambitious plans underway to transform this chunk of central Moscow into one of the world's most impressive parks. The plans will be bankrolled by Moscow's new mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who will finance the restoration of a vast brick building inside the park which will serve as a new venue for his girlfriend's art gallery. One of Mr Abramovich's lieutenants, Sergey Kapkov, a former Russian MP who ran the oligarch- backed National Academy of Football, has been put in charge of the renovations.
In the heart of Moscow, Gorky Park was first opened in the 1920s by the early, utopian Bolsheviks, who called it the Culture Factory, and wanted it to be a place where Muscovites of all ages could come for relaxation and ideological betterment through culture. Later, it was renamed after the writer Maxim Gorky, and became an iconic landmark of central Moscow.
In recent years, however, Gorky Park has fallen into disarray, and indeed there are no pleasant parks in central Moscow. The Russian capital is a big grey monster of a city with wide, clogged roads, and few green spaces. Nowadays, the parks that do exist near the centre tend to be almost more depressing than the urban sprawl, and Gorky Park is no longer an exception.
This lack of decent parks in Moscow was not lost on Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President. "I happened to be in London recently and saw Hyde Park," he said back in 2009. "We need to talk to the Moscow authorities, they should make their own Hyde Park, plant the same trees and so on."
Yelena Soboleva, 65, has worked at the park for 20 years, but has been coming since she was a child, and remembers it as a magical place. "The park has always been a part of my life," she says, recalling trips with her parents to go on the rides and see ballets and dances; later her first date and her first kiss all took place here. "The state of the park today is a reflection of everything that has happened to our country," she says. "Everything here is in ruins. The last 20 years have been catastrophic for the park, and for the country too."
Of course, one person who has done rather well from the last 20 years is Mr Abramovich, and it is his money that will help restore one of the park's most iconic buildings, the "Hexagon". Once an exhibition centre and the largest cinema in Europe, the vast hexagonal brick building is an extraordinary space that was gutted by fire; now all that remains are the charred walls, with no roof.
Within two years, however, it is expected to be open for business as the new venue of the Garazh, the contemporary art gallery run by Dasha Zhukova, Mr Abramovich's girlfriend and the mother of his child. …