Marat Guelman sees change in the Russian contemporary art market – The Moscow News

Mar 17th, 2013 | By | Category: Journal



© RIA Novosti. Alexandr Kryazhev

Art guru Guelman sees new prospects for Russia’s market

by Vladimir Kozlov at 15/03/2013 13:24

The rarified atmosphere of Russia’s art market in the ’90s was highly lucrative for a few select artists, but political and economic changes since the turn of the century are driving an expansion, said gallery owner and cultural promoter Marat Guelman.

“The model of the Moscow art market [in the 1990s] served a small group of galleries, a small group of artists and a small group of oligarch buyers,” Guelman, 52, told The Moscow News. “The situation was peculiar because there was this small group of artists – say, 20 people or 50 at most – who were very famous, who represented Russia everywhere, and prices of their works are very high.”

Speaking in his gallery at the Winzavod art center, he admitted a certain role in creating that system, but said that he was now “digging its grave.” Part of the process is rechristening his eponymous gallery as Cultural Alliance, reflecting an expansion of the art world’s focus beyond Moscow.

Political image-maker

A native of the Moldovan capital, Kishinev, Guelman opened one of the first private Russian galleries in Moscow in 1990. It changed names several times, the best-known being the Marat Guelman Gallery.

From the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, he also worked in political consulting, with various parties and politicians. Most recently, however, his work outside the gallery has reoriented itself to the art world, focusing on cultural projects.

According to Guelman, political changes have brought the old art market to a halt, as the older generation of wealthy collectors left the country and a newer generation of nouveau riche that does not collect art came to prominence.

“About 80 percent of collectors who bought from the Marat Guelman Gallery live outside Russia today,” he explained. “The new rich are state officials, their spouses and children, or heads of state-run corporations. They hide their cash rather than show it, and so they don’t become art collectors because collecting art is a public process.”

A growing circle

But the new situation has created as many opportunities as dilemmas.

“Over the past few years, a middle class has formed, consisting of professionals and managers, and they would like to collect art,” Guelman said. “But starting at €50,000 or €70,000 is not realistic for them.”

The provincial artists exhibited at Cultural Alliance are not inferior to established artists, Guelman said, but their former absence from the market means that prices for their works could be five to 10 times lower. As a result, collectors with much smaller budgets can afford them.

“By offering works by new artists, we give new collectors a chance,” Guelman said. “Everyone talks about Warhol, and it’s cool to have a Warhol. But if a collector shows his taste and says that he found a cool artist at an exhibition of Izhevsk art, and the work is only €2,500 but it’s no worse than Warhol, he is right, in a way.”

Another change is that the role of agents is becoming more important than that of galleries.

“We have a sort of school [for agents], several young people,” he said. “I teach them and they pick their artists. The commercial side of art is becoming closer to what literary agents or music producers do.”

Spinning off

One important trend in the Russian market is decentralization, Guelman said, countering a 300-year tradition of bringing talent to St. Petersburg or Moscow.

“In the Soviet era, for instance, the human resources policy was to find talented people in the regions, bring them to Moscow, train them and give them jobs – and that policy still continues,” he said. “What does it mean to make a career in Russia? It’s to move to Moscow. The rest of Russia has been largely seen as a field to harvest.”

For the past few years, Guelman has been running a cultural project in the Urals city of Perm, which encompasses the contemporary art museum PERMM and the annual art festival Beliye Nochi (White Nights).

While some were enthusiastic about a project bringing contemporary art to the city, some local cultural figures were critical. They said that cash from the regional budget should be spent on local culture, rather than fostering contemporary art and bringing in art personalities from elsewhere.

However, Guelman shrugged off all criticism.

“Culture is appropriated,” he said. “Even traditional Perm wooden sculpture didn’t originate just there, it was all over the Urals. But there was a collector from Perm, he brought it there, and so it began to be associated with Perm. Cultural heritage doesn’t belong to where it originates, it belongs where it is kept. And in that respect, our new museum is just as local as anything else.”

Still, he admitted that insufficient explanation of the project’s goals may have lain behind some people’s rejection of it.

He added that the project helped to change attitudes about the city in local young people, the majority of whom previously wanted to leave.

“Even if the only positive outcome from our Perm project was stopping young people leaving the city, it should have been done anyway,” he said.

Tags: Marat Guelman, Russian contemporary art market

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