Ilya, could you tell us how you came up with the idea to open a gallery in Moscow rather than elsewhere? To open it in the city where the art industry is extremely competitive. Do you think there is a balance in Russia between the opportunities for artists to exhibit their works and come into the spotlight on the one hand, and suitable platforms on the other?
- I have been living in Moscow for many years already. My whole life is connected to this city, so I did not have a lot to choose from. But our gallery is not aimed at the Moscow audience, but rather at Western connoisseurs of contemporary art: gallery owners and collectors from the USA and Europe. I do not feel we have high competition in the art industry. It probably is within the country. But local galleries compete with each other for collectors of contemporary art, who are not that numerous in Russia. They compete for the right to offer something to them.
There is competition between artists as well, but they compete not with galleries, but with each other. It is a kind of an artistic rivalry: different ideas, different works.
Answering the second part of the question, I would like to notice that there is no such a balance: artists severely lack platforms where they could exhibit their works for decent money or even for free. A lot of them are ready to exhibit for free if they had such an opportunity. But there are only few platforms ready to give young artists a chance. So they have to invent something, to use conservative museum or museum-like venues, which are not adapted for exhibiting contemporary art. If we talk about small spaces, they are not suitable either, because they do not attract viewers in terms of light, for example. It is not an issue for the Tretyakov gallery, obviously, because it has ample resources unlike private galleries, which are less likely to open their doors to unknown artists and give them the opportunity to hold an exhibition for free. Small galleries aim to make money, which is understandable. Business is business. I believe that a contemporary artist should think beyond the narrow bound of premises. They must think big, on-line, as I repeat over and over again.
Is Podorvanov Art Gallery more a labor of love, or a business for you? I want to understand why people nowadays are investing their own money to develop galleries.
Podorvanov Art Gallery is both a labor of love and a business, actually. Contemporary artists' works inspire, attract, and motivate me. My business is built on my love for art. It has always been the case. Art patrons were interested in artists and sculptors. They invested in them so that the latter could think more about self-actualization and art, rather than their livelihood. It's amazing and interesting.
According to experts, the main contemporary art trend is the desire to amaze, but with aesthetically interesting works, rather than provocative things. Do you think the Russian art community in general and the Moscow one in particular is now under a strong ideological and financial influence of the Western market?
Art serves to communicate, receive feedback, delight, and amaze. Sometimes such things are provocative, but they can be so today, and become the classics tomorrow. There are many such examples.
Aesthetics is an evaluative and subjective concept. Some people find the Golden Ball aesthetic, while it is absolutely nothing for others. Some people are captivated with abstractionism, while others got bored with ordinary European landscapes.
As for the question of to what extent the Russian art community is influenced by the West, I cannot give you a clear-cut answer. We do not depend on them financially, simply because we are not quite interesting for them. Maybe Western collectors used to come more often 15-20 years ago, so more deals were made. But now the Western collector seems to have gone. This process is vibrant. The world of art can be compared to the ocean: some streams start in South America, then cross the ocean, reach the shores of England, return and go towards Africa. It's a living organism. Especially now, with the development of the Internet, when we can communicate on different international platforms and social networks. In this respect, we are subject to their influence. I am sure that the works of our authors inspire many artists in the world as well. It's a reciprocal relationship.
You mentioned the Tretyakov gallery. That is why it’s worth to remember Pavel Tretyakov, who often preferred the works of beginning or little-known artists. Moreover, the collector, philanthropist was not afraid of buying a picture disapproved by art academics, a picture that received negative feedback. He was always ahead of the curve, remembering that art primarily aims at shaping, nourishing, and educating the audience.
When a gallery owner needs to choose the specialization of the gallery, do they always, so to say, bow to the audience? Or, on the contrary, they want to enlighten people, are ready to risk and show the audience not only trendy paintings, but also the ones that, for example, will be featured in catalogues of contemporary art masterpieces in a few years. What are you personally guided by?
I am flattered that you have mentioned Pavel Tretyakov in our conversation. I admire his talent, his foresight, his ability to feel an artist and see their potential, to see ahead. Artists quite often can open up differently from what was expected. They show their unexplored talents and work within new artistic movements. I appreciate that very much. He is a bright example that we want to follow.
I do not fully agree with your opinion of art aimed at educating and nourishing. I do not think so. Art owes nothing to anyone. It is the language of self-expression, music, poetry, spiritual urge. So it doesn’t matter if it is an artist, a sculptor, or a musician. They express their vision and perspective, their paradigm through which they see the world and experience feelings.
Speaking about the decision of a gallery owner to specialize in a certain artistic movement, I want to mention one expression. I understood it only when I started to work with Russian icon painting. It runs: "We do not choose the icon, it chooses us." The same is true about the fine arts in general and how gallery owners decide on what specialize in. It seems to happen other way around: a certain artistic movement chooses the person, but only when they are ready, that is, when their intellect and inner state are able to embrace it. And it is when the rivers of time converge: a gallery owner meets an artist, admires their work, believes in their potential and begins to invest one's own time and money in them. So we have a kind of symbiosis, confluence of the two rivers, when they rapidly move forward together, promoting both the artist and the gallery. And such an outrush creates many interesting artistic projects. Again, it is not the gallery owner who chooses.
Technically, of course, they make a choice when they review artists. I personally do so looking at what kind of paintings a particular author creates, and what they are like. But in general, fate determines what a person is going to specialize in.
I am lucky to have begun understanding art from icon painting, because my sister is an icon painter and I am the owner of our family icon studio. I have devoted many years of my life to it. You can learn more about it at http://www.ikonu.ru
There are gallery owners who are engaged in art for the sake of art, not willing to resell the paintings. They enlarge their collections and galleries. It is a great thing when a person keeps non-commercial art alive, so that it does not disappear, does not gather dust, but becomes a part of a collection and is exhibited to the audience.
This is an opportunity for strange art to exist. There are lots of examples when contemporaries did not accept the art of their time. Let's take rock-and-roll, for example. People did not accept it, but, nevertheless, that kind of art existed. Recording studios believed in rock-and-roll and recorded singers and bands. Many of them had a feeling for it and hoped it would be a success, or maybe they thought it was something inspiring only for them.
It is the same about the fine arts. A gallery exhibits not only what should be bought or what is trendy, but also what corresponds to the intelligence of the gallery owner, the team, and the art experts who they cooperate with. This promotes the gallery and allows looking at art from different angles. Artists, in their turn, see that there is such a gallery that takes on bold projects, and they begin to believe in themselves. They begin to believe that they will be able to exhibit, try something of their own. Something unusual and worthwhile can be born out of this collaboration.
I have the Russian Orthodox icon as my background. It may seem surprising, but I was raised on this kind of art, which has long traditions. It is a unique movement in the world art that has been developed in Russia and has reached fantastic heights. This is my base. This is why I began to see not only the technical side of other artistic movements, but also what a person can bring to art if it already shows everything.
It is important to understand that there are strict canons in icon painting. For example, you cannot paint the image of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God differently from what it originally is. It is a system of rules. An artist can interpret some details in their own way and add some colors. Nevertheless, lots of artists paint the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. It is important to feel the moment when they open up, express themselves in icon painting, show their spiritual understanding, personal attitude, and freedom. If they are able to say something of their own with their colors, then artists go to another level. Everything seems to have been already painted. But there are artists, intellectual deviants, who are free from bound, who think differently and can create something incredible, something that will become history. That is what I am guided by as a gallery owner.
Contemporary art and the general public are incompatible things. It is rather intelligentsia (translator’s note: intellectual class) who looks for something new, unusual. They are able to take challenges and study all life long to be on the move and be able to advance. Who is your audience? What new forms of interaction can there be between contemporary art and the general public?
I do not quite agree that they are incompatible. Nowadays, there are many examples when thousands and even millions of people admire art objects. Such objects are often harmoniously integrated into parks and landscapes. And people do not reject them, they appreciate them.
Of course, there are modern trends and new artistic discoveries that require some preparation and curiosity from the viewer. People usually either want to know what it is, or keep themselves away: "No, it is not art, it is not interesting."
If a person has an inner desire, and even better a certain preparation (I mean, this is not the first contemporary art object they see), then, of course, there is a certain interaction, the desire to think, to ask a question and to get an answer to it. So, we cannot say that contemporary art is open only to some caste of people who love and appreciate it.
The only form of interaction we have now – social networks. A huge number of people spend hours on social networks every day. In this situation, it would be better to reach the audience through the information channels they choose, namely Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and professional platforms for artists where they share their ideas and art. Our gallery is no exception.
Interviewed by Julia Kolpikova.