The archive contains materials documenting the work of curator Joseph Backstein as one of the founders of the Institute of Contemporary Art (Moscow) and Commissioner of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. The part of the archive related to the Institute of Contemporary Art includes lecture plans, biographies of teachers, dossiers of artists, archival documentation of student exhibitions, video documentation of Russian exhibitions from various years, statutory documents, and photographs of Ilya Kabakov’s studio on Sretensky Boulevard, where the Institute and the office of the Moscow Biennale were located for many years. The second part of the archive relates to the Moscow Biennale and features catalogues, exhibition plans, collections of articles, business letters and official documents regarding organizational issues, artist applications, comment books, ephemera, and Joseph Backstein's personal notes.
The Institute of Contemporary Art was Russia’s first private educational institution in the field of contemporary art. Founded in 1992 in Moscow thanks to the joint efforts of artists, art historians, and art theorists, ICA Moscow is based on the Western model of arts education, which implies classes in the theory and philosophy of art, seminars, and exhibition projects. Graduates include Victor Alimpiev, Evgeny Antufiev, Alina Gutkina, Arseny Zhilyaev, Shifra Kazhdan, Elena Kovylina, Irina Korina, Taisia Korotkova, Taus Makhacheva, Diana Machulina, Liza Morozova, Sergey Sapozhnikov, Haim Sokol, and Stas Shuripa. In 2018, it was renamed the Joseph Backstein Institute of Contemporary Art.
The Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art was one of the largest international contemporary art exhibitions in Russia and was conceived in the 1990s by Joseph Backstein and curator Viktor Misiano (who left the project a year before the opening of the inaugural Biennale in 2005). Biennale curators include Defne Ayas (2015), Joseph Backstein (2005, 2007; he was also Commissioner of the Biennale 2007–2015), Bart De Baere (2015), Daniel Birnbaum (2005, 2007), Iara Boubnova (2005, 2007), Nicolas Bourriaud (2005, 2007), Peter Weibel (2011), Catherine de Zegher (2013), Gunnar Kvaran (2007), Jean-Hubert Martin (2009), Rosa Martinez (2005, 2007), Hans Ulrich Obrist (2005, 2007), Nicolaus Schafhausen (2015), and Fulya Erdemci (2007). In 2016, Joseph Backstein resigned as Commissioner.