Close-up: Olga Sviblova

It's a 'dangerous time' for Russian art, says Moscow's cultural tsarina
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The Independent Culture

In her twenties, she was a street cleaner in Soviet Russia, discussing banned literature in her spare time. Now, three decades later, Olga Sviblova hasn't worried about litter for a long time: last year, she curated the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and, as the founder-director of the Moscow House of Photography (for which she spent eight years unearthing 80,000 photographs), she is also behind the Alexander Rodchenko exhibition that opens this week at the Hayward Gallery.

At her chaotic Parisian apartment, she talks incessantly in three languages – Russian, English and French – while chain-smoking. "It is a wonderful but dangerous time for art in Russia," she says. "Prices are very high, which is good for the artists, but it could precipitate a crash."

She adds that many of the oligarchs pumping money into the scene have a good eye, including Roman Abramovich, who sponsored her 2005 exhibitions of Russian Pictorial Photography at Somerset House and Max Penson's photographs of Uzbekistan last year. He has also sponsored the Rodchenko show.

"I met [Abramovich] for the first time at last year's Venice Biennale," says Sviblova. "He looked very seriously at all the art. Then he called me and told me how much he liked Sam Taylor-Wood. I was touched because she is one of my favourite artists."

To see the importance of such patrons, says Sviblova, just look at the works on public display at the Royal Academy's From Russia exhibition. "All the incredible paintings in Russian museums are from private collectors who bought art from Paris at the beginning of the last century. Maybe that situation is developing again."

Alexander Rodchenko: Revolution in Photography opens on Thursday at the Hayward Gallery, London SE1, 08703 800 400

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