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Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky


Problems and perspectives of the market

of contemporary Russian art



Published in Russian: Заграевский С.В. Проблемы и перспективы российского рынка современного искусства. Электронная публикация. М., 2011.




The following text was translated from the Russian original by the computer program

and has not yet been edited.

So it can be used only for general introduction.





In order to describe the situation, which in the last ten to fifteen years has developed in the Russian market of modern art, will hold a short excursion into the recent past.

It is no exaggeration to say that at the end of 1980-ies started the "Golden decade of Russian art". In the Soviet time, public interest in contemporary creativity fueled by prohibitions on "modernism" and some social issues. And when the era of "glasnost" bans were lifted, then the interest multiplied by the euphoria of freedom of creativity and access to information instantly led to the fact that the audience rushed to the exhibition halls, and collectors - in artists ' studios. And not just look at the pictures, and buying.

This ended the "Golden decade" soon after 1998. The outbreak of the memorable "the August crisis", was some hope that the market decline is temporary, that as soon as collectors and art lovers will once again free money, they will invest in paintings and sculptures not only dead, but of living artists... These hopes were in vain. The market for contemporary art since then, not only did not rise, but continues to drop steadily.

How he fell - just impossible, because a little bit of objective data on the volumes of sales of works of art of our contemporaries (as well as Antiques) as there was no and no. The vast majority of transactions carried out as a "rough"and is carried out. But it is clear that the total volume of this market in comparison with the "Golden decade" fell many times.

Proportional to the effective demand for works of art degraded and artistic life - exhibitions, lectures, discussions, creative meetings, resonance in the press... this is sort of there, but no more than "like". If, for example, the vast majority of exhibitions of contemporary art the audience comes only on the opening day, and a member of this audience is almost exclusively from friends and relatives participants and organizers? Or if the vast majority of reports about these exhibitions - "custom"?

In our time the artistic life has turned into a chaotic movement of individuals and artists, frantically running around the galleries in the hope something to sell, and gallery owners, with the same purpose frantically running between collectors and collectors trying in this muddy stream to form a more or less decent collection. And the artists in the country, tens of thousands, gallery owners - thousands of serious collectors - tens, and even worthy of collections - one, two, and a handful...

You can build up a rating total current state of basic directions in art: the best feeling hits, on the second place - the movie, the third - theatre, the fourth - classical music... And the bottom firmly settled arts and literature. For the sake of justice we will notice that the writers probably even worse than the artists, because paintings and sculptures can somehow sell at least for a song, and unclaimed lyrics nobody knows what to do but how to publish on the Internet and hope for a miracle...

In the "Golden decade" many kidding myself that "the foreigners will help us": that Western collectors in bulk will go to Russia to buy works of art. But these hopes were not fulfilled. Let's just say that abroad we can, and would have helped, but only BRICS prevented...

For those who does not track the vicissitudes of global policy, please specify: BRICS is used worldwide abbreviation "Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa", and it means that these countries are at the same level of socio-economic development. In other words, Russia is in the minds of the West took place among the so-called "third world". Accordingly, at Western auctions was quoted and contemporary Russian art. Nature do not be fooled: the level of world interest in the art of any country depends on the interest for the country itself. And who, by and large, interested in "third world"?

And these experts are still in the "Golden decade" visited Russia, looked around, assessed the prospects, understand it right (they are experts), bought (very cheap by Western standards) little paintings for their collections and went home. More to do here was nothing.

And so it happened that in our time the relationship of the Russian art market in Western as well as inside the artistic life of the country, form the notorious loners. Some artists, doing enormous efforts, make their way into the international market and periodically appear in the auction quotes, sometimes even managing to get for their work is quite good money. Can a little trade in the West and some Russian gallerist. But compared with the art markets of the most developed countries of the world is a drop in the ocean.

Characteristically, the reverse process - import of works by contemporary Western artists in Russia for sale is practically absent. Can we seriously talk about inclusion of the Russian art market in the world?

Generally speaking, the "Golden decade" can be called a "decade of broken dreams". Great hopes in those years was placed on the creative unions - and as a center of artistic life, and how organizations can solve social problems of participants in the art market.

Such functions are relatively creative unions successfully carried out in Soviet times, when the Soviet state was related to art as an ideological weapon and money to support the allocated a lot. Of course, this support use only "their" (those who in one or another degree could get along with the Soviet system), but gradually these "friends" only in art has accumulated tens of thousands.

All of this enabled the members of the MHS to think less about "daily bread" and more on creativity and creative communication with their colleagues and the public. And those who for various reasons had not joined the Union, indifferent could not be protested and debated... All this in the Soviet period created quite a fair sense of bustling cultural life.

And after the collapse of the USSR property heirs MHS - Union of artists of Russia, the Moscow Union, Saint-Petersburg, Union of former Soviet republics, now independent States, even if separated, still remained very solid. And it remains solid so far, in spite of all sales, losses and abuses by the leadership of unions. And ideological obstacles, no more, the number of members of these unions is growing, so that these organisations seem not going to die...

What is the problem, why the creative unions in modern conditions have not been able to effectively perform its main function - to be a center of artistic life and to social protection for their members?

Because, as he wrote Bulat Okudzhava, "sweet cakes are not enough for everyone." Property unions less and less, members - more and more, and their leadership occurs typical motivation: if the goods of life (first of all, the money from the leased property) to share between all members of the Union, each will get negligible, so isn't it better to split them between "own"?

That was in these organizations access to material goods is not due to creative achievements, and intra-career. Someone makes it with the help of relatives and friends, someone he shows business qualities... But in any case to the artistic life of this has to name only the unions is not the miners, and artists...

And "ordinary" members of these unions in the best case remains participation in "mass graves" - group (or rather, mass) exhibitions with thousands of participants and, accordingly, with thousands of works in several rows on the walls of the huge halls, in which visitors look extremely rare.

It is characteristic that in the post-Soviet period have only created one new large all-Russian artistic organization is a Professional Union of artists of Russia, and solves this organization first "trade Union" protecting the rights of artists. And new alliances in the classic Soviet times no longer appear. And really, why should they appear if the creative issues such unions are unable to solve, and the new property they never gives?

Almost the same problem and another organization, exists even in the Soviet time, and since the XVIII century - the Russian Academy of arts. Yes, by and large, and in any large creative Association applying for participation in the artistic life of the country.

This suggests unhappy generalization in the country live art, and artistic associations. Creative achievements and known to the public throughout substituted by nepotism and social career.




Why is art in Russia is now so live?

In order to answer this question, let us pay attention to the huge increase in recent years the interest and the public, and collectors to socialist realism. Specify: not to "Sots art" (surge of interest in which has taken place in the "Golden decade"), namely the textbook socialist realism.

And it's not that people globally have changed flavors: as fast in the last few years, this could not happen. And it's not just that modern art market a lot of his proposal: socialist realism in large volumes was proposed ten years ago. The main reason here is the following: socialist realism for most visitors and buyers of works of art was a kind of an "anchor"that allows to catch hold of the "soil" is a reliable, friendly, calm, familiar, time-tested, and even causing positive reminiscences of childhood and adolescence.

This phenomenon is from the same series, they always have a greater interest in Antiques compared with modern art. And this is logical: in the antique market is more or less tested, artists are more or less known, trends more or less calculable, information on real sales there is at least approximately, - which means that investments in this segment rather reliable.

And in contemporary art turns out that the audience (and especially the buyer) "catch" not for that. More or less educated people (and uneducated on the exhibition stopped walking) understands that the "academic" criteria for evaluation of works on formal skill transfer reality, composition, choice of themes, etc. are gone. Today almost any viewer familiar with abstract art, conceptualism, and numerous other "isms".

In principle, the audience is ready to believe the critics. The specificity of the art market is that it is the art assessment of the place of the artist in the history of art, his work in General and in each particular activity is the basis of formation of the prices for the work of art (speaking in market terms, determines the quality of the goods). All other pricing factors ("untwisted" the name of the artist, gallery selling status, the credibility of the auction, the personal tastes of the seller and the buyer, the accidental coincidence of circumstances, etc.) secondary.

This understanding allowed at the end of the nineties to create the directory "a Single artistic rating", which successfully exists in our time. Sustainable success and credibility of this Handbook is primarily due to the fact that the basis for definitions of ratings are expert art assessment, to which is added the whole set of other factors.

But one authoritative Handbook is not the whole art criticism. In General, when artistic life degenerates into a chaotic movement of individuals, and in criticism there is the same randomness. Critics write mainly about "us". "Strangers" in full conformity with modern information technology, they do not even curse, not to make them a "PR" - just ignore it. And "its" is awkward not to praise, and sometimes they pay the money - and how else to make a living?

So it turns out that art criticism, which in theory is one of the most important parts of such a serious science as art history, in practice degenerates into journalism, and at its worst, "custom" format.

And connoisseurs of art, as they say, not stupid, when they feel embarrassment from the abundance of laudatory epithets in any critical article about any artist, they understand that "every Sandpiper praises its own swamp, and there's no trust to read not have.

The result is disastrous: in our time, for the vast majority of viewers no criteria other than "like - not like it" does not exist, and in the acquisition of paintings or sculptures of this essential reference, as rated places in the history of art, everywhere replaced by the set of secondary factors (the"promotion" of the author, status  galleries, personal preferences and so on). The choice of works of art (things that are unique by definition) is akin to the selection of such public goods such as TV sets or refrigerators, with the only difference (not in favor of the art market)that "producers" of paintings many times greater than consumer electronics.

And according to the General laws of Economics, with a significant excess of supply over demand prices for bulk commodities are steadily declining. This further worsens the situation on the art market.

It would seem that this drop in the price of professional collectors should use and cheap to buy works of art, so that later on they make good money. This, in turn, should revive the market. In theory. But in practice everything is different: any, even inexpensive purchase is a waste of money if the artist in a few years, few remember (and this often happens). So, for investment in the modern art should be sure that a particular piece at all worth buying.

Plus a General deterioration of the investment climate in Russia. Plus negative long-term forecasts: if the country stops "to sit on the oil needle" (and to stop it is still going), it will worsen the situation not only in all areas of production, not only in science but also in culture... in short, against the Russian art market is global geopolitical and macroeconomic situation.

In principle, it happens quite often that works of art are bought just because you like, or are suitable for interior or as gifts - in other words, without thoughts about any investment. But the percentage of these "random" purchases in the total art market is lower than the less people have money to spend. And in this respect Russia lagged behind as many developed countries, and continues to lag. Again, we see the global economic problems...

In principle, the spectator (respectively, and the buyer) would be of interest to the severity of the debate around creating fine art "intellectual tension." In Soviet times this tension is maintained by constant conflicts between conformism and non-conformism"in these conflicts took active participation of the state (of course, on the side of "conformists"), was a serious struggle, and this struggle with sinking hearts watched not only citizens of the USSR, but also in the world.

Brutal excesses (like the destruction of paintings with the help of bulldozers) to the fall of Soviet power, glory to God, ended. But as they say, with water was splashed a baby, along with the extreme ideological sharpness left of any General ideological acuity, and with it a little bit interesting discussions. This is not surprising: the Soviet ideological legacy was even less hard than the industrial, scientific, and exploit it was possible for very long.

Attempts to create a conceptual acuity for some time been made in the form of shocking - hooligan performances, scandalous exhibitions, etc. But that modern audiences are no surprise: as they say, and not seen. Attempts to produce more shocking is pity than interest.

In principle, the audience is ready to "go to person". Indeed, the identity of the artist in our time is critical in the evaluation of his work (which is consistent postmodern "declaratory" nature of modern art). But what is now the possibility of an artist in order to make themselves known as a person? Or the infamous shocking, or "PR", especially in the media. But, as we have just said, shocking is no surprise.

There are many other reasons sad situation in contemporary Russian art market. But even the ones we have listed here, as we see, it is quite objective and directly related to the global geopolitical and macroeconomic situation in Russia and in the world.




What to do if problems of the market of contemporary art of Russia as global? Who can change this situation?

In principle, it could change the government of Russia, if he decides to repeat the Soviet way of "state sponsorship". But in this case and in Russian society, and around the world will inevitably suspect that the state through the arts're going to impose a certain ideology. And who will distribute the hypothetical "state aid"? Again, a kind of "their"?

And it turns out that in this case the state will spend a lot of money, but instead of gratitude will receive a negative public outcry and accusations of creating another "feeder close". And any government, of course, rightly ask: "It is necessary to us?"

In principle, the situation may not change state, and public art. Imagine as an ideal: all major participants in the art market unite and create a single Advisory (or management) mechanism, which begins systematically and purposefully to involve the public in the halls (respectively, and financial resources on the art market).

But, unfortunately, that this ideal is just utopia. The trend of recent years shows that however bad the situation on the art market, creative organizations, galleries and artists prefer not to unite, and to treat fellow "fine shop" on the notorious principle of "you today, tomorrow". We have said that the modern artistic life is chaotic movement of individuals, unable to positively affect the overall situation on the art market.

What remains? Wait global changes of the geopolitical and macroeconomic situation for the better is when the Russian art market will have more money just because Russia and its citizens in General will to live richer? Not all of it is like to wait for the sea weather?

No, not all the same, because in the world of art in any country in any epoch waiting for "better times" does not mean inaction, and the more hopeless.

This artist is different from an entrepreneur that works not in order to earn money. Of course, the money he can not think, but the actual act of creation with the potential earnings not related: the motives are absolutely different.

Therefore, any deterioration of the situation on the art market is also its unique rehabilitation, those who came to the "fine shop" for easy money, go away, but the real artists are. The same applies to the gallery owners and art critics, and collectors. And viewers of idle onlookers turned into thoughtful judges.

And you must always remember: whatever happens on the art market in the country and the world, the art still will not die, nor has it died in the course of many millennia of existence of the human civilization at a much larger scale shocks.

So, all that is created, sooner or later will be in demand - albeit not in the form of modern art, and Antiques. This is the albeit weak consolation for all participants in the art market, and especially for the creators of works of art - artists. And in these conditions, the creators of an additional task is not only to create but also to preserve all that is created in order not to disappear from the memory of posterity "for technical reasons".

But speaking in scale not millennia, and at least several decades, and not for the whole world, and about Russia, and not about "art for art's sake", and about the art market conditions?

Say: how would in the foreseeable future, Russia may have evolved, however perceived in other countries, it is still the tradition of a great culture is so strong that they cross over several decades is impossible. And all the vicissitudes of the art market in no case does not mean the decline, and especially the death of Russian art.

So, in one form or another art market in Russia will exist, and need to find their place in it. Of course, this can be done alone, but it's much more efficient to do together - in the company of like-minded people United by the understanding of the essence of art, the chosen style, unified marketing strategy...

The Soviet creative unions with many thousands of participants was gone, and replaced them should come "specialized" artistic Association, accepted in the West, and until 1930-ies and in Russia. Associations established not on political or economic, but on the creative principles. The Association, not looking for favors government and "his" audience. Conditionally speaking, the modernists - separately, academics - separately, the conceptualists separately, the followers of a local "art school" - separately, and so on. And the viewer chooses what he to taste.

"Association of the Wanderers", "World of art", "Jack of diamonds", "Society easel"... but you never know the history of Russian art knows such associations?

Only in these conditions it is possible to build more or less balanced and reasonable price policy. After all, compare the creative level (respectively, and prices for works of artists absolutely different styles and not always even to the leading art critics (the book "one art rating" gives only social minima). And without this comparison even auctions turn into a celebration of tastiness.

What styles will be more in demand and, accordingly, will cost more - abstraction, realism or some other "ISM," is really a matter solely artistic taste of the public, and better tool than the market, for a price of expression can not think.

And if these artistic Association will argue among themselves and on basic principles of art, and about the place of art in society, and just about any style and what the artist is better and which is worse (and they probably will argue, as argued in the XVIIIand in the XIXand XX century), there will be a notorious sharpness debate. Undoubtedly, it will attract viewers - and therefore increase the effective demand for works of art.

Another option out of the grave situation prevailing in the Russian art market, personally I do not see. Anyone who sees them, let them offer their own version. We will discuss and thus increase the public interest in the world of fine art.

And there, staring, and the overall situation in the world will change in favor of Russia and, therefore, in favour of a great culture. Tyutchev, wrote: "In Russia, one can only believe." And let someone calls those who believe in better future for their country, idealists and dreamers - in fact, this belief is very practical, since it is easier to endure any hardships.


Moscow, 2011
 © Sergey Zagraevsky



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