As the market has grown, the demographics of collectors have also shifted. Today Russian clients increasingly dominate the market for Soviet Realism.
Frontier-style capitalism in the new Russia spun off billionaire ‘oligarchs’ who moved aggressively to acquire their homeland art. Nine out of 10 purchases at auction these days are being taken back to Russia, says Swanson, the Utah museum director and consultant. Last summer, the Wurdemans sold two Yuri Kugach paintings to the art foundation created by Russian port and transportation oligarch Andrey Filatov.
Even in the heart of the recession, the market for Russian Realism has endured. The secluded Lazare gallery does not rely on foot traffic or impulse spending. It takes a long-term, slow-paced approach to its relationship with clients.
The Wurdemans’ goal is to connect with a few new serious collectors every year, earn their trust, and bring them back.
“A spokeswoman for the RA says that “despite the merits of Viktor Popkov, it was decided that the exhibition did not fit the requirements of the programme in Burlington Gardens [the building behind the RA’s main galleries] at this particular juncture.”
The exhibition, which is being organised by the State Museum and Exhibition Centre Rosizo in Moscow, will include around 40 paintings by the artist, whose supporters believe is under-recognised in the UK.”
Andrey Filatov, Russian business leader, master chess player, billionaire and art collector is helping Soviet Realist painting to gain greater exposure in the west. Filatov is lending works of 20th century Realism to the Royal Academy in London for an exhibition focusing on work by Viktor Popkov in May 2014.
Filatov’s collection includes work by many of the 20th century’s foremost realists, including Igor Grabar, Pyotr Konchalovsky, Konstantin Korovin, Gely Korzhev, Arkady Plastov, and Yuri Kugach. He directs the Filatov Family Art Fund, which seeks to, ” bring together paintings, drawings and sculptures, which left Russia during the last century […] to increase international awareness and understanding of this acclaimed, but less well-known, period in Russian art.” The upcoming exhibition of Viktor Popkov is a part of the foundation’s broader effort to disseminate and promote the work of artists obscured by the Iron Curtain.
*Update 10/29: The show has been moved from the Royal Academy to Somerset House
*Update 10/30: The Popkov exhibition coincides with the publication by the Filatov Family Art Fund of the first book on Popkov published outside of Russia. (pictured above) Link to article about the book at Russia Beyond the Headlines
Kommersant has published a very insightful interview with billionaire entrepreneur and chess master Andrei Filatov. One of the main sponsors of the 2012 World Chess Championships, Filatov discusses chess as a tool for promoting culture and art, the undervaluation of Russian and Soviet art, and the future of philanthropy among Russia’s super-rich.
On Chess as a promotional tool:
“The first big question was the return to state funding of chess. The match will be held at an iconic museum. Why? […] Holding such tournaments can attract the attention of millions of people, promote the culture of its city, its country, improve its image and attract tourists, increase interest in our art. Chess is a unique and cost-effective tool for promoting the country, culture and ideas, and I’d like to believe that the state will see that.“
During Soviet times, of course, chess was highly valued by the state as a part of the cultural front of the Cold War. Russian/Soviet dominance of chess didn’t just grow out of a natural aptitude or popular interest in the game, it was a top-down effort, organized largely by Soviet Prosecutor General Nikolai Krylenko. He called chess, “a scientific weapon in the battle on the cultural front,” and told the Congress of Chess Players, ” We must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. We must condemn once and for all the formula ‘chess for the sake of chess,’ like the formula ‘art for art’s sake.’ we must organize shock-brigades of chess players, and begin the immediate realization of a Five-Year Plan for chess,” (Stalin, Boris Souvarine, as quoted here).
While Filatov certainly doesn’t advocate the same oppressive methods as Krylenko (one of the engineers of the purges) he does share the same perspective on chess as a tool for promoting culture. When asked if any other wealthy Russians have followed his example, Filatov responded, “Rather, I am a successor. Do you know that this idea was already realized? And do you know by whom? Stalin. In 1935 a tournament was held at the Pushkin Museum. The Soviet government demonstrated to the world that the Soviet Union had not sold off Russian cultural heritage.”
Filatov believes that this cultural heritage is deeply undervalued. He makes an interesting comparison between the French Impressionist and Russian Realist schools:
“Not a single country experienced more serious upheavals in the twentieth century than Russia: the war with Japan, the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, World War I, the Civil War, the Great Patriotic War, famine, repression… all the experiences, these incredible emotions, are visible in the works of Russian artists. Certainly French Impressionism is beautiful. But when Russian Impressionists depict life, there is a different intensity of emotions. Think of “Bathing of a Red Horse” by Petrov-Vodkin. Or Laktionov’s “Letter from the Front” at the Tretyakov Gallery.”
Which isn’t to say that Russian art is interested in content while western art is interested in form. The wildest formal developments of the turn of the century came from Russia in the work of the suprematists and constructivists, which were anything but playful experiments. They set as their goal nothing less than a total restructuring of civilization.
Filatov concludes his interview with a hopeful eye towards a more generous future for Russia’s super-rich. The modern Russian state doesn’t support the cultural institutions built up during Soviet rule. No one could or should follow in the footsteps of Stalin. But perhaps today’s Russian industrialists will begin to follow in the footsteps yesterday’s Russian industrialists and commit their fortunes to the arts and society.
“For many entrepreneurs this may be some kind of example. We have thousands of wealthy people. And if those wealthy people did the same, we would be living in a different country. And society’s attitude towards entrepreneurs would change.”