ST PETERSBURG TIMES
By Sophia Kornienko
... His dark, strange images are masterworks of technical virtuosity. Russians still place a heavy emphasis on mastering the craft of one's art, something that has, regrettably, been lost in the West. Arkady devoted 12 years to studying the rigorous disciplines in Russian art schools, and it shows.
Like thousands of Russian artists, Arkady is trapped in hopeless poverty.
"Letters from St. Petersburg"
Filled to the brim with art shops, St. Petersburg offers but a handful of specialized art galleries.
Home to many remarkable masters and a number of people looking to invest into quality works, the city art market promises good profits to newcomers able to fill the vacant niches in gallery business, experts say.
The Russian art auction organized by Sotheby's in May reached record sales of 11 million pounds, making Russian art a success in the world's mainstream, Vremya Novostei wrote this month. And this year's Art-Moscow - the country's main auction of contemporary art - sold artworks for a total of $1.7 million, the highest sales in Art-Moscow's existence.
While Moscow, with about 100 galleries, finds it hard to satisfy the country's growing demand on art, there are hardly 20 specialized private galleries and no art auctions held in St. Petersburg. In comparison, the average number of art galleries in a small western European city is 200.
"There is practically no art market in the city," said Yulia Borodina, art director and co-founder of the Matiss Club gallery, which opened in St. Petersburg in August 2003. Matiss Club deals in underground art, including the works of Levon Lazarev, Vyacheslav Shraga and Georgy Kovenchuk. St. Petersburg will never form an art market as big as Moscow's due to limited cash flows, Borodina said, even though the works of some St. Petersburg-based artists form the foundation of the late 20th century art museum collections.
Art market growth largely depends on developing the culture of buying and selling art - something lacking in St. Petersburg, where artists continue to offer their works at a discount behind their agent's back, Borodina said. The relations between artists and galleries are not legally regulated, to say nothing of other factors, such as the rental price on the gallery depending on the gallery owner's connections with the authorities, she added.
The markup at the city's galleries is up to 100 percent, with individual pieces ranging from several hundred to several thousand U.S. dollars. Profitability depends predominantly on the gallery agent's personal relations with his pool of artists and the amount of effort the agent makes when promoting an artist, which can sometimes take years, Borodina said.
When artworks are transported abroad, the gallery files the export certificate necessary for passing through customs. "I can get permission to carry artwork out of Russia permanently or temporarily. However, I can never predict exactly how many works will be sold at an event abroad and how many I will be taking back, so I was officially advised to file them as gifts to make up for the gap in the customs regulations," Borodina said.
In her book "Letters from St. Petersburg", released this year, Victoria Hammond wrote that "the Russian law prohibiting unregulated art exports "attains new heights of skullduggery because it masquerades as governmental protectiveness."
"This crazy law, which is of no benefit whatsoever to individuals or the country as a whole, is a psychological hangover from the paranoid mentality of the Iron Curtain days," Hammond said.
This year's amendment to the law, which allows private persons to import artwork into Russia free from customs VAT, is of controversial value, because it is effective only in cases when the artwork is part of a person's luggage and not when it travels as cargo, art dealers say.
THE AGE FACTOR
Export procedures are even more complicated for artworks over 50 years of age. Pieces aged 100 years and more are usually prohibited for export out of Russia alltogether, which makes it very difficult for galleries selling antiques.
However, art critics say the trend in the world market is to invest heavily into modern art. New York's Christie's auction beat all records ever set in the history of contemporary art auctions when its sales reached a total of $128 million in May. At the prestigious Basel art auction, art works dating from the first quarter of the 20th century no longer occupy the prime spots they held only seven years ago, owner of Moscow's E. K. Art Bureau Yelena Kuprina told Vremya Novostei this month.
SOCIAL REALISM SELLS
Meanwhile, a specific kind of "blue chip" works have been accumulating in Russia.
"Polishing their academic skills on a daily basis, Soviet artists produced whole collections of quality landscapes, still-lifes and portraits, said Leonid Shishkin, the owner of a number of galleries that specialize in Soviet academism.
Shishkin, who has been successfully selling art in Moscow at the Shishkin Gallery and the Gallery of Soviet Art, opened an affiliate Lviny Mostik or Lions Bridge in St. Petersburg in mid-June.
Lions Bridge sells art works of the social realism period from the 1920s to the 1970s. The works range from massive propagandist paintings by Konstantin Korovin, that cost up to $80,000, to "Soviet impressionism" pieces by Isaak Levitan and Nikolai Tarkhov.
"For about a decade after we opened the Shishkin Gallery in Moscow, where unique pieces such as works by Nikolai Roerikh and Alexander Benua were sold, we targeted expats as major clients. But then Russians began squeezing foreign buyers out of the market by making bigger offers. This is why we opened the Gallery of Soviet Art, where more affordable works under $2,000 were available," Shishkin said.
While westerners have a certain price limit in their mind, which they are not prepared to exceed when making a bid on art, Russians can raise the bids from $100 to $3,000 easily if they like a painting, Shishkin said. "If a Russian likes the painting, nothing can stop him," he said.
However, foreigners often prefer impressionistic paintings with energetic free strokes, while Russians, brought up in the classic traditions of the 1930s and the 1950s, go for meticulously strict academism instead, Shishkin said.
In Shishkin's opinion, social realism will only grow in value, as a mark of the bygone epoch. St. Petersburg's mid-20th century artists, such as Andrei Mylnikov and Nikolai Bargenkov, are not well-represented in the market, Shishkin said. "I try to exhibit several St. Petersburg artists of that time in Moscow on a regular basis," he said. Prices on Stalin-era's academic works, such as those of Arkady Plastov and Fyodor Bogorodsky, are lower in Russia than abroad, Shishkin said. In autumn this year, Shishkin plans to hold his first auctions in St. Petersburg.
"St. Petersburg is quickly catching up with Moscow in terms of the number of people willing to buy quality art products," Lions Bridge director Anna Mileyeva said, explaining the reasons for launching the gallery in the city. Besides, in St. Petersburg people are more interested in art than in cars to boost their image, she said.
Social realism is "an ideal antique product for Russia - old enough to have acquired a museum flare, and young enough for the customs to allow its exports," Kommersant's art analyst Anna Tolstova wrote in June. It is conservative enough for a countr, where the all-times sales champion is Ivan Aivazovsky, and fashionable enough for foreigners looking for Stalinist relics and for Russian kitsch lovers eager to buy writer Vladimir Sorokin's stylizations, Tolstova said.
It is the galleries that will raise the tastes and the art dealing culture in St. Petersburg, said Edward Emdin, the owner of Sol Art gallery, which has been working in St. Petersburg since 1992 and specializes in contemporary art.
Both artists and galleries will benefit from following the internationally accepted rules in art business, Emdin said.
The United States, a leading gallery market around the world, passed legislation on tax benefits for galleries under Ronald Reagan. In France, gallery business develops under the umbrella of the ministry of culture. In Russia, gallery business is not separated from any other, be it the sale of television sets or cotton socks.
Rules change in the process of the game, and there is much bureaucracy involved, but overcoming it is a part of a gallery's job, Emdin said.
The analysis of the Kompania magazine published last month shows that the Russian art market is developing along the same lines as the Western one. In the U.S., the boom in art purchases coincided with the period of stock market's trading slowdown, Kompania wrote. The world's leading investment banks - Citigroup, UBS, Deutsche Bank, J.P.Morgan Chase - provide consulting services for their clients wishing to invest in art. The same service recently emerged in Russia as well. However, Kompania said, most people trust galleries' advise more.
"There are a myriad of unoccupied niches in gallery business left," Matiss Club's Borodina said.
News source: times.spb.ru
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