Simon Rees, artistic director of the International Contemporary Art Fair Cosmoscow, spoke to the Moscow Times about the state of the contemporary art market in Russia today.
Judging by this year’s fair, the market is booming. Art arrived from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Georgia, Russia, Switzerland and the United States. Works of art ranged from about 3,500 rubles (about $ 50) for a small piece to nearly 18 million rubles (about $ 250,000) for a piece sold by Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. A number of kiosks were full.
Uneven playing field
However, Russian gallery owners are at a disadvantage. European gallery owners have received state grants during the pandemic, which has helped them maintain both their business and their staff, albeit on a part-time basis.
In Russia, unfortunately, “the government has not yet realized and recognized the role of the cultural sector as a real engine of the economy,” Rees told the Moscow Times. “That said, as far as I know, the desire of local collectors to support their favorite art galleries in their regions by shopping during the lockdown period was roughly equal in Russia and in European countries.”
The boom to come
According to Rees’ estimate, it takes about 30 years for a country to develop a stable and prosperous art market. In Russia and Moscow, it would start counting in 2000, which means the country has another 9 years to go.
Why use the year of the millennium as a starting point? “Although the 1988 Sotheby’s auction in Moscow had a great resonance and unofficial Soviet art caused a sensation around the world, it still has not led to systematic changes,” he said. -he declares. “I chose the year 2000 as my starting point because it was from that moment that a systematic interest in contemporary art emerged, both in Russia and in the post-Soviet space in general. . There has been a qualitative leap in mentality towards contemporary art, and this concerns all aspects at the same time, from museums and festival programs to gallery activity.
One sign of this is the rapid expansion of the contemporary art market far beyond St. Petersburg and Moscow. “Interesting events and vibrant galleries are springing up far beyond these cities and attracting more and more people. Russians are now ready to get on a plane and go to an exhibition or festival in Voronezh, Kazan, Vyksa, or even a completely unfamiliar place, if there is something exciting and happening there. ‘interesting.
In some ways, the pandemic has even played into the hands of a younger generation of artists, who have yet to make a name for themselves, Rees said. They feel more comfortable in the digital space, which takes the lead in the promotion and dissemination of contemporary art and artistic practices. A young generation has been formed that knows how to exist simultaneously in two realities, skillfully maneuvering between their active physical life and activity in social networks. In this sense, the younger generation is in a much better position than their older compatriots.
“In Russia, we see the highest number of new collectors now in the 45-55 age group,” Rees said. “These people have understood that contemporary art has an important place in today’s cosmopolitan world. They have their own house, a car, maybe a country house or a summer cottage, and other material things. And then the question arises as to what they will fill all this space with, how it will look and feel emotionally, aesthetically. The answer to this question naturally leads them to contemporary art and design. Cosmoscow’s audience is made up of people who understand this logic, and luckily there are more and more of them.
There are, however, still some challenges. One is that Russian galleries are adopting a more open attitude. “When, say, Russians, Latvians or Estonians come to the Venice Biennale, for some inexplicable reason, they sort of simmer in their own juice, only communicating with their compatriots,” he said. . “It’s pretty sad to see this, because it’s a missed opportunity.”