A young woman in a long black dress napped on a floor area covered with coal, oblivious to the noise of a penthouse art gallery’s opening-night crowd earlier this week.
The sleepyhead was part of an exhibition, “Involuntary,” at the new fordPROJECT, an art gallery that occupies a two-story penthouse on West 57th Street. It was one of the satellite programs of Armory Arts Week, New York’s biggest annual art expo.
The fordPROJECT gallery was also part of an effort by junior Russian oligarch Guerman Aliev to exploit the famous brand of Ford Models. Tuesday’s opening drew actors Chloe Sevigny and Rachel Weisz as well as players from publishing, art and the media.
“Ford as a brand is much stronger than the revenue it generates,” said Aliev recently while drinking green tea in his 50th-floor Altpoint office overlooking Central Park. “Our foray into the art world is a way to expand the brand.”
Born in Moscow, he learned Japanese as an exchange student, and ended up spending seven years at Merrill Lynch &Co. in London, as a director of its capital-markets business. In 2003, he joined Vladimir Potanin’s Interros Holding Company in Russia. Interros now is the biggest investor in the funds managed by Altpoint.
Aliev said he has allocated between $1 million and $1.5 million a year for his gallery, including the cost of staffers, art fairs and celebrations like the party after the “Involuntary” opening which drew a buzzy crowd to the Surrey Hotel.
Aliev hired Rachel Vancelette, former director of Yvon Lambert and Gladstone galleries, and Tim Goossens, former assistant curator at PS1, to oversee sales and programming. In most shows, the prices will range from $10,000 to $100,000.
“I am going to work through various modus operandi,” Aliev said. “Now I am experimenting with having rotating curators for exhibitions without representing any of the artists. But I am not saying that this model will never change.”
Organized by influential art curator Neville Wakefield, “Involuntary” was inspired by involuntary physical responses as well as violent and paranormal elements. It includes Laurel Nakadate’s video “Exorcism in January” showing her twitching and contorting.
A week before the show, Aliev blocked a piece that involved the sleeping girl and prescription drugs “because of the liability issues,” he said. After the drugs were scrapped, the work was allowed in.
“This is the first time I’ve seen all of it,” Aliev said at the opening, surveying the crowded space. “Unlike most contemporary-art shows I see in New York, this one elicits a range of emotions, from admiration to contemplation, joy and shock.”
(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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