Artem Filatov is an award-winning Russian artist and activist, born and based in Nizhny Novgorod. Most of his artworks are related to the historic centre of Nizhny Novgorod, local wooden architecture and problems of public spaces. Artem took part in various biennials of contemporary art, group exhibitions and won Credit Suisse prize and Garage Museum grant for emerging artists. He also curates group exhibitions and runs a public art festival The New City: Ancient to raise awareness about the Nizhny Novgorod's wooden-built heritage. When in Nizhny Novgorod, you can most certainly spot him in his studio working with his fellow artists. Artem takes us on a tour of his native Nizhny Novgorod with hidden food spots, quirky museums and, of course, loads of cool street art.
Travelling through Russia for me is always about culture in its natural surroundings. It's still possible to find old and forgotten churches in the middle of nowhere, you can see old towns with region-adherent historical architecture. In fact, the country is so huge that there's always something new to explore. Our heritage has somehow survived different crises and many Russian cities are not that spoiled by high-rise developments and urbanisation.
This year I've been to Arkhangelsk, a rather small city in Northern Russia. The North is the cradle of traditional Russian culture with its wooden architecture, crafts and folklore. Arkhangelsk was an important international trading post with port markets and foreign legations. It was also the place where serfdom was never established and peasants were freemen which certainly contributed to the cultural boost in the North.
I'm not much of a traveller, I prefer to stay in Nizhny Novgorod instead of going anywhere. Nizhny Novgorod is a world in itself where you can find pretty much anything you like, it's a calm and energetic city at the same time. When I want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city I usually go to my country house near Murom. It's a perfect place to stay and collect plants and look for new specimen for my herbarium collection during the hot summer months. While in winter you can enjoy the pitch-dark nights with no lights around and snow everywhere.
Nizhny Novgorod is a historical city, there is always something undiscovered, blind spots which you can explore and study, and bring to the public's attention. Living in Nizhny Novgorod is like being in the centre of the outskirts of the world. Wooden houses line the crooked old streets which wind down from the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, Soviet avant-garde blocks of flats in Avtozavod loom in the distance.. This city has many layers of interest like any other living being.
The historic wooden architecture, of course! Without a doubt, the Nizhny Novgorod region is a treasure trove of traditional wooden decorations and ornaments. If you go to the Russian Museum in St Petersburg you will see an permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of wood carving in Russia which showcases a large amount of decorations brought from the Nizhny Novgorod region. If you wish to learn more about our wooden heritage, I definitely recommend going to the Old Sormovo neighbourhood in Nizhny Novgorod. It's worthwhile to join a guided tour run by Tatiana Nechaeva who knows all about the meaning of the imagery and symbolism behind each carving on the façades of the old wooden houses.
Walking around the centre of the city is a must if you want to understand this city and its way of life. Bolshaya Pecherskaya and Ilyinskaya Streets are located in a former merchants' quarter with myriad historic buildings. Peep into the courtyards and side streets to get the feeling of the past. Walk along Ilyinskaya, Gogolya and Malaya Yamskaya Streets where the remaining old houses stand among their burned and demolished fellows still holding the line. Forget about maps, allow yourself to get lost in the city centre to find its inner secrets.
There's a bunch of specialty coffee places in Nizhny Novgorod. Unlike average coffee shops they buy only high-quality beans, own a roaster and work hard to promote coffee culture in the city. A brew bar with a quirky name Coffee Is a Fruit came to Nizhny Novgorod from Saratov and became one of the best local spots for true coffee lovers. They are roasting their own beans, use various brewing methods and serve coffee in a very cosy atmosphere.
One of the first and most popular single-dish eateries in Nizhny Novgorod is Freakadely, they serve quick and tasty food such as falafel and meatballs with salad and french fries. I really like the informal and friendly approach which the young owner of the place has towards the staff and guests, it always feels like being among friends.
The best craft beer in town is served at Hophead, this small pub is a great place to meet up with friends in the evening. If you are into a more upscale drinking places go to Mednye Truby Bar, they make signature cocktails and the bartenders can create a bespoke drink for you based on your preferences.
For special occasions we usually go to Pronto Pizza e Pasta, it is undoubtedly the best pizza place in Nizhny Novgorod. Back in the day, two Italian families from different regions of Italy were asked to help create a menu for the restaurant. Of course, they had a big row over the best pizza recipe so the owner had to choose whom to cooperate with. As a result, they've developed an astounding quality of pizza and pastries.
There are quite a few budget places to stay for an undemanding traveler, but if you're craving something a little fancier go for Sheraton, the only five-star hotel in Nizhny Novgorod. Each room in this hotel is decorated with unique silkscreen art prints by a local artist Anton Morokov who shares a studio with me.
Nizhny Novgorod street art scene is a one of a kind in Russia. Its primary canvas is the historic centre of Nizhny Novgorod, thus local street artists motivate locals and visitors to explore the city. In 2014, we've made an online interactive map of Nizhny Novgorod street art which is available today. You can browse all works, select the ones that you like best and create your own route to see them. We are planning to make an app for this map, but right now it works pretty well with Google Maps.
A very popular flea market is held each weekend on Sverdlov Square. Many locals and tourists come here to rummage through the vintage Soviet items and antiques. It's the place to go if you collect coins, old books, cutlery or porcelain.
The best place to see nature and historic wooden architecture is Shchelkovsky Khutor. It's a beautiful park with a superb open-air museum of old log cabins, wooden churches and mansions, which were moved here from all over the region.
I really like the Vasari Festival held annually in Arsenal Centre for Contemporary Arts. It's an arts and culture festival where each year has a specific theme. They host interesting talks and a huge book fair attracting book publishers from all over Russia.
I like Nizhny Novgorod both in winter and summer, but the character of the city is more obvious in spring and autumn. There is no bad whether in this city as long as you're dressed for it.
The National Centre for Contemporary Arts, otherwise known as Arsenal, hosts the best cultural events and exhibitions in the city. It's located in former armoury building which reopened to public after ten years of renovation. If you love contemporary art visiting Arsenal is a must. Besides, it's one of the few museums in town where you can find English info boards and signs.
There aren't that many art galleries in town, but Futuro Gallery is presumably one of the most successful. They are located in a historical building with gorgeous interiors, so sometimes people go there for the sake of the decor rather than artworks.
Me and my fellow artists have recently rented a listed building which once housed the Museum of Nizhny Novgorod Intelligentsia in order to raise public awareness. We've collaborated with local activists and artists to curate an exhibition called Back Home which was meant to raise knowledge about the problem of heritage preservation in a modern city. The former museum building which is over 170 years old and its historical surroundings have become a blind spot of our city and exist on the verge of destruction. We've studied the museum archives and did a big research on the history of the museum building which has reopened for the first time since 2013. The exhibition attracted huge numbers of visitors, and it was great to see that people actually relate to the story and are concerned about the preservation of the city's cultural heritage. There're superb guided tours to the surrounding neighbourhood run by my friend Sergey Sipatov who seems to know everything about the history of the museum and its surroundings.
Artem's Top Places In & Around Nizhny Novgorod