Thursday, May 25, 2006

Moscow comes to a close

A rock crystal and gold chandelier at Turandot. Photo: JH.
Moscow in the Morning, Manhattan at night. A beautiful Wednesday morning in Moscow. JH and I had a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining room of the Kempinski giving us one last long look at the Moscow River and the Kremlin. The hotel breakfast is an enormous buffet which includes fresh eggs prepared to order before you, meats, fish, fresh fruits, a variety of fresh juices including carrot, pineapple, green apple; cheeses, dry cereals, pastries, croissants, rolls and breads; yogurt, berries and just about anything you could think of. When JH came back to the table with a second full plate, he explained with a sly smile that this was “for the picture.” And lo, so it was. Sort of.

Right after breakfast we loaded into a small van for the trip to the Moscow airport which in modern Moscow morning traffic can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. Or more. Two hours later, after several clumps of gridlock, we were at the airport.
L. to r.: JH's last meal in Moscow; Yuri Antonov bids "Mr. Cholooombia and Mr. Heeersch" farewell.
Security in Russian airports requires that everyone’s bags is checked, i.e. gone through. Fortunately there was not much to check for me for the five day journey, and so it was quick. Others were not as fortunate: one tall and lanky young Russian behind us, carrying a very large suitcase, had all of his belongings removed and laid out for all to see including some pornography he likes to take along for the ride. Ahem; he was cleared, red-faced and all.

At 12:30 pm we boarded Delta Flight 31 for New York. A beautiful, smooth daytime flight above the clouds, across Finland, Scandinavia, Greenland, across the North Atlantic to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Maine coast. At 2:45 pm on a warm and sunny day in New York, we landed at JFK.
Clockwise from above: Goodbye Moscow; Floating above the thick fold of cumulonimbus clouds; Hello New York.
My Dinner With Andrey. On our last night in Moscow, we had been invited to dine with Benjamin Steinitz, the Parisian antiquaire who was also exhibiting at the Moscow World Fine Art Fair.

We met at Turandot which is located on a busy narrow thoroughfare right next door to Café Pushkin where we’d dined our first night in Moscow. Turandot, which opened last December 15 is owned by the same man, Andrey Dellos,who also owns 24 other restaurants in Russia, including six in Moscow.

Turandot was six years in the building and is a brilliantly 21st century version of an authentic 18th century European palace. Updated for the modern dweller of course, and the restaurateur, it is so spectacular from the moment you enter, so luminescent and sparkling in gilt and candlelight, that you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a film from the period, and been transported. Even the waitstaff is dressed in costume and style of an 18th century servant. I thought of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, whose authenticity was all enveloping and mood-enhancing, as if this is really what it might have felt like to live (like that) then. If you were very privileged.

On arrival last night, we were escorted up a staircase leading to a large domed and gilded, round balcony of a dining room which looks down onto the first floor dining court. This room is the masterpiece of artisanship and design and frankly all you want to do is stand there and ogle. There isn’t a detail left untouched.

Off of this main space are several private dining rooms, all done in the same style but differently, with different themes and color schemes. All but one of them was occupied by private parties – journalists from Paris Match, businessmen and their wives, businessmen entertaining visiting businessmen, oligarchs and their friends. Everybody who’s anybody in Russia or visiting Moscow, since Turandot’s opening, has dined here. Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin have all set down to table for the Asian fusion cuisine.
L. to r.: The all-porcelain fireplace in the Porcelain room; Views of the first and second floors.
The Porcelain room.
Off another side of the mainroom is the Porcelain room, a large dining room for private parties with fireplaces decorated in porcelain as well as displaying a huge collection of porcelain vases and plates displayed throughout. It was later explained to me that in 18th century, porcelain was rare and its possessors liked displaying their collections that spoke as much for its acquisitional value as it did for the owner’s wealth – an excellent combination for all to see. Porcelain plays a prominent and even novel role in Turandot where the toilets and urinals are exquisitely made in porcelain. The effect of all this is an other-worldly luxury, an imparting of fantasy. All of the porcelain throughout was created especially for the restaurant from the designs of the artisans and the owner.

Right after we arrived, we were joined by the owner/creator and his beautiful young wife Jenie as well as Ben Steinitz and another man and woman.

Andrey Dellos is a man I would guess to be in his early forties. He is not tall, but slender and wiry with the formidable energy of a promoter, and a forthright, personality that is quick to laugh. With his beard and graying hair and well cut dark grey suit and black tee shirt, he looks like a Hollywood producer. Or a Chelsea art dealer. Although far more charming and full of joie de vivre: this is a man who loves his work and loves his life.
Scenes from Turandot.
He is first a painter and restorer. He grew up in Russia but lived for several years in Paris where he met his wife (who is also Russian). After he’d moved back to Russia, friends visiting from France always want first to see the Café Pushkin that had been made famous in the Gilbert Becaud song of the same name. Of course Andrey had to tell them that there was no Café Pushkin, that Becaud had made it up.

The phenomenon inspired him, however, and he conceived of a café with a décor that would reflect that period of history when Pushkin lived and wrote, the early 19th century. (Today is the 207th anniversary of Alexander Pushkin’s birth.)

The first problem for Andrey in making a Café Pushkin was finding the location. Secondly, Andrey’s plan called for a long period of construction since he intended to replicate the period with artists and artisans. Then when he found the perfect site, it already had buildings that would have to be razed. Additionally it was very expensive. His investor saw it and agreed. There was only one condition: the restaurant had to be constructed in six months.

At first he thought it couldn’t be done for he fully intended to build a restaurant that not only looked and felt authentic but was authentic. That required time. No time allotted, however, he gathered together everyone he could and with a huge work force, six months later Café Pushkin was open for business.
No visit is complete to Turandot without a trip to the bathroom.
That was several years ago. It’s been open 24/7 ever since. Of its kind, Café Pushkin is without peer – a hip, beautifully appointed, mood-filled 19th century Russian brasserie/tavern. Very popular and considered one of the top ten restaurants of Europe, the celebrities and the politicians and the international travelers all book tables. Former President Clinton held forth at table for a long evening of conversation the last time he was in Moscow.

The idea for Turandot came immediately after Café Pushkin opened. This was going to be even greater, more lavish and more elaborate. Andrey now knew that one of his problems was finding the work force to carry out his dream. Artisans are a dying breed. The few younger ones also wanted to take advantage of other projects that came from their work on Pushkin. They wanted to profit too from the interior decorating business that Pushkin inspired.

To solve this problem, Andrey, being an artist himself, understood that there were young people out there, developing artists, who would have the patience and interest in learning and doing the work. He went to art schools and gathered a group of about 200 young people – fifteen, sixteen, eighteen, nineteen years old. He offered them jobs and help in getting accreditation for their work with him. He was offering them the opportunity to learn how to decorate this 18th century palace he had planned. The only stipulation was that they had to sign on for ten years; he wasn’t going to squander his investment by having to train a new group again for the next time.
DPC, Benjamin Steinitz, Andrey Dellos, Jenie Dellos, Marina Grigoreva, and Frank Dekempeneer in the green room, our private dining room for the evening.
The idea was a huge success for everyone. The force was eventually reduced to 100. Together, over the next six years, they made this amazing place.

I heard this story from the creator himself when we first sat down to dine in this private dining room with its green chinoiserie paneling and silver candlelabra providing our light, and the footman pouring the vodka from a clear crystal carafe into the chilled crystal stem glass. Andrey Dellos is full of enthusiasm for his business, and obsessed with every detail of every matter of it – from the design to the building, to the cuisine, the service, the management, the marketing and the future planning. He sits across the table full of conversation, smoking his pencil thin Parliaments, occasionally raising his glass of whiskey to his lips, ordering in Russian with the waiter, tossing some phrases in French to his friend Ben Steinitz. He loves what he does, every damn round-the-clock minute of it. You’re with a man possessed and actualizing his dreams. He’s an artist whose pictures not only sell but are in demand. He loves that. It motivates him even more.

Las Vegas has been to visit and offers have been made for him to do the same out in the Nevada desert. He was intrigued, especially intrigued by Las Vegas, but decided that he couldn’t run 26 restaurants in Russia and another one in Las Vegas. Besides, he knew that as much as Las Vegas hotel developers would pay for his services – and the sums they quoted him were stratospheric and impressive – Las Vegas businessmen would never tolerate five or seven years creating the Andrey Dellos version of an 18th-century palace.
The Las Vegas businessman might be willing to spend a lot but ultimately only for what Andrey calls “the approximate.” Andrey has a passion for the real thing.

In recounting this he explained the process of decorating another private dining room at Turandot. He wanted a room of boiserie that looked 18th century, but was 19th century. The reason for the 19th century was that he knew he could never afford actual 18th century boiserie but that they made some very good reproductions in France in the late 19th. Finally one day a dealer from Paris called to say he had the boiserie. Andrey went to look. It was 18th century. He knew it was. No, said the dealer, as much as he would have wanted it to be. It was just very good 19th century. And so for $100,000 it would go into Turandot.

And with that, we got up from the table and he took us into the kitchen, all of which is state of the art modern, white tiled, stainless steeled, out through another door, up some stairs passed the changing rooms for the staff and into another huge room with its freshly placed mahogany and gilted boiserie. Voila!

Back down to our dinner which was being placed on the table; all things Asian and delicious and irresistible. The best Asian food I’ve ever had anywhere. From there conversation ventured into the new Russia, the ten year marriage of Jenie, a very welcoming and friendly woman who looks like a very young Candice Bergen. The Dellos's live amongst a world of artists, antiquaries, artisans and businessmen. They come from far and wide to dine at Andrey’s restaurants and they bring the world with them. And then they want to entertain the Dellos's. It is a world of friendships and seeing and discussing. It is the world of the epicure, the connoisseur, the entrepreneur and the artist, for Andrey Dellos is revealed to be all of those things in one man. And the pleasure ultimately is all ours also.
 Andrey giving Benjamin and DPC a sneak peak of the VIP Room in progress.
Tuesday afternoon, leaving the Moscow World Fine Art Fair, JH and I walked through the gardens behind Red Square, up past the Kremlin Wall and Lenin’s Tomb to St. Basil’s which we discovered was open to the public. Built in the 14th century and restored for public perusal in the last century, it is dark and lugubrious with passageways that wend and wind almost to distraction and confusion, while in a nearby ancient room a woman behind a counter is selling souvenirs and tsatskes and post cards.
A last look inside St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square with its small dimly lit chapels and maze-like corridors covered in floral designs dating from the 17th century. The Chapel of the Intercession's priceless iconostasis dates back to the 16th century.
We’ve had the privilege of covering a number of Art Fairs in the world in the past few years. I’m neither connoisseur or collector, but merely an appreciator. By which I mean I don’t have the resources to be anything more. International art fairs cater to the weathy, the very rich and the institutions. Prices often run into the millions or numbers comparable to us working stiffs.

The Moscow World Fine Art Fair which is now in its third year, is a relative newcomer to the booming business of the international art fair. Its presence is the result of the growing interest spawned by the new wealth and prosperity of the new Russia.

This year they attracted 70 exhibitors from France, Switzerland and Russia. The elements were the same as those we see in New York at the opening of the art fairs – the vernissage which brings out the curious and serious, the fashion plates, the pretty young girls and young men of various stripe and intentions, along with the bankers, the businessmen and their wives.

The art fair, to these eyes, is a modern meeting place for all of the abovementioned elements of post-modern society. The modern collector/consumer (depending on the longevity of their commitment) likes the upscale marketplace/social meeting place of the art fair. It draws people of power and influence. Its growing popularity is a recent phenomenon which has caused dealers to focus on these exhibitions rather than gallery business.
The third annual Moscow World Fine Art Fair offered up a serious and occasional glitzy fare for the many well-fixed Russians visiting its halls and stalls. For example, there was a grand piano made for the Queen of Portugal at the end of the 19th century and later bequeathed to her daughter, the Queen of Italy, covered or inlaid with Sevres porcelain and of course in perfect tune for 2.5 million euros or about $3.2 million. Down at Christie’s there was the jewelry from the estate of Princess Margaret being put up for auction along with a great many pieces of furniture and objets from her collections. The sale includes a great deal of what the late sister of the Queen left to her two children, not unlike the sales we’ve seen of Jacqueline Onassis, Pamela Harriman, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and promises to be of major interest to even those of us who are not potential buyers.
Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière.
Prelle.

The piano, priced at 2.5 million Euros, was originally made for the Queen of Portugal. Late 19th century bed (below), 2 million Euros.
Vladamir Kaplunov.
Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont.
Foremost Names.
Chowaiki/Mosionzhnik Gallery.
Galerie Luc Bellier.
Haute Rive Fine Arts.
Jungi Galerie.
Marat Guelman Gallery.
Ulei.
Rudolf Budja Galerie.
Kabinet.
XL Gallery.
Regina Galerie.
Right: Librairie Thomas-Scheler, Bernard and Stephane Clavreuil.

Far right: Galerie Albert Benamou.
Burkhard Eikelmann.
Impulsion B.
World of Arts.
Morozov Manufakturing.
ArtxArt - Mimmo Rotella Foundation.
Antique Salon (Akant).
Galerie Omagh.
Galerie Downtown - François Laffanour.
Art Agency Colony Gallery.
Galerie de Bartha-Hirt.
Maison d'Art.
Galerie Schmit.
Empire of History.
Above and below: B. & B. Steinitz.
Maricevic Fine Art.
Bouquinerie de l'Institut.
Stella Art Gallery.
Jewelry from the estate of Princess Margaret being put up for auction along with a great many pieces of furniture and objets from her collections at Christie's.
Van Cleef & Arpels.
Left: Sabbadini, Milano.
Right: Chanel Joaillerie.
Galerie Ratton — Ladrière.
Galerie Le Minotaure.
Academy of Arts Gallery.
GDB Fine Arts.
Antique Salon (Old Masters).
Antique Salon (Old Masters).
Aidan Gallery.
Bettina Rheims.
Zebra Bliss Gallery.
STG-Art.
Galerie Gismondi.