Ivan Lindsay interviewed by Tvoya Istoriya

Sep 28th, 2016 | By | Category: Journal

Tvoya Istoriya, the Russian Federal project about people in Russian culture published an interview with Ivan Lindsay to learn more about his new book, Masterpieces of Soviet paintings and sculpture, which is to be launched at Waterstones Bookshop in Piccadilly at a book launch/panel discussion on 10th October: –

Ivan Lindsay — the author of the book Masterpieces of Soviet Painting and Sculpture, performed in London on the 10th of October, collector of russian art — on his story, collecting and Russia.

Ivan Lindsay: Russian art is as good and sometimes better than Western art.Ivan Lindsay with the artist Pavel Nikonov in Moscow circa 2012.  Pavel Nikonov was a leading ‘Severe Style’ artist of the 1960’s who broke away from the Socialist Realist Style to depict subjects that he felt better reflected the austerity of life in Russia post WWII.

“My parents gave me a Russian name, so people always assumed I was Russian, and I was curious about that side of my family.”

TI: You are British but you are a famous expert on Russian art in the UK and worldwide. Why have you decided to dedicate your career to Russian art?

Ivan Lindsay
Ivan Lindsay at the ‘Festival of
Ideas’ at York University in 2014.

IL: Most of my career was actually devoted to non-Russian art. I was originally interested in the art that my family collected and that I grew up with, such as the Old Masters, Impressionists and early 20th-century painting. Russian art came later after I started visiting Russia about 15 years ago.

TI: Has your Russian background (you have ancestors, the Vorontsovs, who were former Chancellors in Imperial Russia) influenced you as an art professional?

IL: Yes, I believe all my ancestors have influenced me as an art professional and an art collector. My mother’s family were Capel Cures of Essex and the Vorontsovs of St Petersburg, and both sides of the family collected art for their houses. My parents gave me a Russian name, so people always assumed I was Russian, and I was curious about that side of my family. My father’s family, the Lindsays from Scotland, collected books and art after their coal mining business became successful in the 19th century. My father and grandfather both collected art and art was always a major conversation topic in our house. It was my father’s major interest in life so it was the only thing one could really talk to him about. He wasn’t interested in the intellectual side of art but purely in whether an object had quality or not.

“Initially, I couldn’t afford to collect art.”

TI: How did you begin collecting art, and what frames your approach as a collector?

IL: Initially, I couldn’t afford to collect art. After my time in the military, I made a living as an agent, selling paintings without being the owner. This is a good way to learn but a precarious business as the agent often gets squeezed out of the deal one way or another. I determined that as soon as I could, I would start buying art so I would be able to properly control situations in business deals. I duly started buying art, little things to start with. Since I only buy what I like, I find I don’t like selling it, so I try to keep as much as possible and just enjoy it. When I was starting out, a successful art dealer told me, “You make your money by what you keep, not what you sell.” This is true. As far as frames of collecting go, there is a complicated series of criteria that have to be satisfied before I will buy something. There are too many to list here, but, in brief, it has to be an important work by an important artist, in good condition, with clear title, visually interesting and with a secure attribution. And then, if it passes these formal criteria, I try and shut out all the background noise and honestly follow my instinctive gut feeling of how I respond on a primeval level toward the art object. Unless I get distracted, my gut feeling is normally reliable. And for some reason, which I have never bothered to analyze, people always seem to want the things that I choose for myself.

 “People always seem to want the things that I choose for myself.”

TI: Why is it important to develop the Russian art market today?

IL: Russian art is as good and sometimes better than Western art. Russian artists have always had very solid technical backgrounds because they were so well taught in art schools, even in Soviet times. Art is an ambassador, and cultural exchange is still possible in difficult times such as at present. If we can still keep communicating on a cultural level when politicians are fighting, it keeps the doors of communication open. Russian art, particularly of the Soviet period, is not so well known in the West. Developing the Russian art market stimulates the exchange of culture and knowledge, and that can only be a good thing.

” Russian art is as good and sometimes better than Western art.”

soviet art book

TI: You have just finished your new book Masterpieces of Soviet Painting and Sculpture. Why particularly Soviet art? What do you find so charming about that?

IL: I wouldn’t say Soviet art is particularly charming. It is, however, very good. The great Soviet artists, both sculptors and painters, are as good as the Russian Avant Garde artists and the 19th-century Russian artists. It is a Western myth that creativity ceased in 1930 and didn’t return until the post-Soviet era. When I first started studying Russian art, I could see the quality of the Soviet-era artists. In each decade of the Soviet era, the style of the Soviet artists changed. Just take the first decade, for example, the 1930s; you have the emergence of Deineka, Pimenov and Samokhvalov, artists as good as anything before or after. The Russian museum curators were well aware of the quality of such artists, but in the West the whole of the Soviet period was dismissed as kitsch propaganda. It was exciting to start studying this period when there was hardly anything published in English, and learning about it meant visits to artists or their descendants in dusty old studios full of sculptures or paintings and meetings with museum curators for their advice. Having to establish which were the best artists and build an infrastructure in Moscow to support the venture, and learn how to do business in Russia where nothing ever works how you expect… was an adventure.

TI: What masterpieces have you included in your new book? Could you explain the background of these artists and why they are important in the history of art?

IL: I wrote an introductory essay, and an essay on the development of the Soviet art market, and helped produce the book with Rena Lavery, but we let the leading museum curators in the Tretyakov and Russian Museum write the essays and choose the artists and what artworks they wanted to illustrate. So you have Natalya Alexandrovna and Olga Polyanskaya from the Tretyakov doing the paintings and Lydmilla Marts of the Tretyakov and Elena Vasilevskaya of the Russian Museum doing the sculpture. Katia Kapuskesky did a marvelous job editing this complicated book, published in both Russian and English editions, whilst having to pull together all these different authors and distill the book into a coherent whole. We gave equal weight to paintings and sculpture, and the curators broke the period into two chapters each of the 1920s–1950s and the 1950s–1990s. There are too many artists to list here, but all the great ones are in the book, drawn from the movements of Socialist Realism, Classicism, Russian Impressionism and the Severe Style. For the background of these artists you will have to read the book. The passage of time is the only real art critic and, with the passage of time, these artists will come to take their place at the pinnacle of European artistic achievement of the 20th century.

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Ivan Lindsay: Russian art is as good and sometimes better than Western art.


Tags: Interview with Ivan Lindsay, Masterpieces of Soviet painting and Sculpture book launch, Pavel Nikonov, People in Russian Culture, Russian art market., Severe style, Socialist realism, Tvoya Istoriya

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