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Dressed in short shorts and tight black polo-shirts, the strapping young members of the Moscow Ping Pong Club swipe balls furiously to and fro, while solemn babushkas push trolleys of steaming pelmeni dumplings between them, their wheels occasionally getting snagged in the plush purple carpet. To one side, a group of students busy themselves screenprinting bold slogans on to T-shirts beneath a makeshift wooden canopy, handing them out to bewildered visitors roaming amid the chaos.
In the middle of Moscow’s Gorky Park, in what used to be a thriving Soviet restaurant and social club, it feels as if the clock has turned back 40 years. The crumbling concrete skeleton of the 1960s Seasons of the Year restaurant, derelict for two decades, has been reborn as Garage, the city’s ambitious new museum of contemporary art. The surreal ballet of ping pong and pelmeni is no communist throwback, but an immersive installation by Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija.
“We have a new challenge,” says Dasha Zhukova, the 34-year-old socialite art collector behind the project. She founded the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture in 2008, initially housed in a 1920s bus garage in an industrial neighbourhood, designed by radical constructivist architect Konstantin Melnikov. “Before, people sought us out, but now we’re in the middle of the park people come in who don’t like contemporary art – or [who] don’t even know what it is.”
Wrapped in a new polycarbonate skin, the former restaurant now stands as a shimmering shed, a silvery apparition floating among the jumble of fairground rides and derelict pavilions, relics of the 1923 Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition held five years before the current park was first established. Like a futuristic hangar waiting to receive its airship, two vast portals have been sliced into either side of the 100 metre-long slab and jacked up into the air, a welcoming gesture signalling that the cargo hatch of culture is open for business. […]