Maxim Boxer, curator, dealer, and director of Ravenscourt Gallery in Moscow, is holding his first auction of Russian contemporary art in London during Russian Art Week. Having been in the art business since the early 1990s, when the Russian market was in its infancy, Maxim Boxer is now an established figure on the Russian art scene. Theodora Clarke, Editor of Russian Art & Culture, who publishes the official guide to Russian Art Week, caught up with him to talk about Russian Cosmism, the exhibition and auction taking place at Erarta Gallery, Mayfair. ‘Russian Cosmism’ is showing at Erarta Gallery from 30 May – 3 June. The auction will be held at 6:30pm on 3rd June.

Courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Theodora Clarke: This is your first auction in London, why did you decide to bring Russian contemporary art to London in Russian Art Week? Maxim Boxer: I am very excited to show Russian art in London this week; it is important for Russian artists to be present among the big sales. The auction houses present many good names and interesting works. But we also thought that there is a niche for interesting and affordable Russian art here. Russian Cosmism is not only an auction but an exhibition as well. Even if the commercial part is less successful, this is a curatorial project with well known names, good articles by artists and a proper catalogue, so our task is sort of achieved already! I hope the public also find it interesting. TC: It’s quite unusual to have an auction with a theme. Can you just tell me a bit about Cosmism and why you chose that for the sale? MB: There are very few Russian movements that are separate from the world of art. Russian Cosmism is very interesting, it has been an influence for more than 100 years on art, literature and poetry. It was originally a philosophical trend and then it became more and more scientific. We thought that this is relatively unknown here and could be interesting not only for the collectors and buyers, but for institutions and for museums.
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Courtesy of Maxim Boxer

The curator, Vitaly Patsukov, and I made a selection of artists, and then I started to negotiate for the auction, and the circle grew wider. One of the main objectives was to offer good prices and we suggested giving the works for the auction, to loan or to sell. We knew at the start the names that we would like to have for this auction. And that’s how it began. What would you say is one of the top highlights of the exhibition? I love all of them! But Alexander Ponomarev’s canon on the map is very important. He is a famous artist who has done many projects in Europe. He presented his submarine twice at the Venice Biennale and now he is a curator of the Venice Architectural Biennale which opens in a couple of days. He is a very expensive and important artist. The other one who should be mentioned is Francisco Infante. He has presented three early photos from 1974. He became famous for these photos many years ago and we managed to find them on the market. Gor Chahal’s Cross is his correction of mistakes of the Russian Avant-Garde. There is also a wonderful Mikhail Larionov on display. It was exhibited in New York at MoMA and it belonged to Hutton Gallery; I bought it from Ingrid Hutton, so the painting has a very good provenance and it is a very nice piece. The Chahal reminds me of a Suprematist painting by Malevich, but with substantial differences…. Yes, because he thought that Malevich had incorrectly applied the colours – black instead of white and the direction is also backwards. He thought that a lot of sins and prejudices of the 20th century were influenced by this mistake and he wanted to correct it with the help of God. He’s quite a religious guy so this is important. Another great work is by  Leonid Tishkov who is a famous artist all over the world. In this sale he is presented with his light boxes of the moon. I would also like to mention the knitted rocket in the corner by the stairs because this rocket is for space travel to visit our ancestors. The artist believed that if would like to make this journey to where all the souls live you have to do something for them. So he took pieces of old clothes from his relatives and he made a special rocket out of the wool. He uses this technique to make important pieces, but very few of them.
Courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Courtesy of Maxim Boxer

It’s interesting that you chose Cosmism as your theme because in the UK this year we have a major exhibition of Russian space exploration which comes to the Science Museum in the autumn as part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014 programme. Was this deliberate? I found out about it a couple of weeks after I started. It’s very topical at the moment, it’s amazing! You selected the Shelkovsky sculpture as the front cover for the Russian Art Week guide. Why is this such an interesting sculpture? Shelkovksy is a very interesting person. He emigrated to Paris 30 years ago and lived there for many years before he returned to Moscow. He was the first man who organised a magazine about Russian artists and Russian underground artists in 1979. This magazine was called ‘A-Ya from A to Z’ and he first published Kabakov. He was one of the first leaders of this underground movement and the only link between Europe and Russia. He did it all by himself, and he invested all his earnings from his sculptures into this magazine, so personally I like him very much. He’s the same in his sculptures, he is a true man from the 1960s, 70s, always very genuine. You can never tell what size his objects are. This Robot sculpture many people will think is life-size but it is very small. I hope someone would like to produce these works in large scale somewhere in a garden or on a country estate, to be presented like Moore, Gormley or Serra. Who are you expecting to be the main audience at tuesday’s auction? Mostly Russian collectors coming to the Russian Art Week auctions in Mayfair. What are your expectations for the sale? Yes, we have some Russian collectors already interested and we have several bids already due to our site. I think that the people who are here for Russian Art Week will definitely attend – we will do our best to show them the exhibition. But our hopes are among British people as well. That’s why we sent a lot of invitations to art dealers who are included in the Society of London Art Dealers, and to galleries and to museums as well, probably not as buyers, just as viewers. We expect to see many Russians here.
Chakhal, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

Chahal, courtesy of Maxim Boxer

You mentioned about attracting international collectors. How well known do you think Russian contemporary art is in London? You have a gallery in Moscow so I am interested that you chose to come to the UK instead with this sale. Over the last few years less and less has happened in the field of contemporary art business in Moscow. You spend a lot of time and effort organising the exhibition and the same people come. I hope that the audience will be wider here. Actually  Russian Art Week is very important for us because we have a chance to invite people who are visiting this art fair in London. For the artist it is also important to be present among the international society. Many of them such as Shelkorsky, Shutov and Ponomarev have been sold at different auctions around Europe including Sotheby’s. What is the main differentiation between your sale and the auctions at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams, MacDougall’s this week. Why is Russian Cosmism unique and different? I would say it is an exhibition and a sale. The main point is that it is curated with a catalogue and a theme. So that’s why it is unique. As for the prices, well it could be interesting for a different public, not only for the collectors and dealers, but just for people who live in London. Some of the works are collectables and some of them are very good for interiors of people’s homes. You have had a gallery in Russia now for many years. What do you think about contemporary art in Russia, especially given the fact that Manifesta 10 will be held in St Petersburg this year? In comparison to London or New York say, contemporary art in Russia is still a relatively new market… It’s improving slowly because institutions are cooperating with good curators and artists. There are increasingly more projects about contemporary art in Russia. However, there is no tradition like in the West to buy and support contemporary art. It’s a difficult situation because artists cannot produce pictures or sculptures when they don’t have a place to work and so on. There is no support from the Government, few buyers and artists live a very modest life. Still some projects are helping like Garage or Winzavod, but generally it is not a normal situation. For such a big country, like Russia is, it is unusual that contemporary art is not integrated into everyday life. 2014 is the UK-Russia Year of Culture so there’s a big interest here about Russia. However, at the same time it is increasingly difficult with the teense political situation. Did you have any problems organising the sale as a result? No, we don’t have any problems but people are depressed in Russia about it and we are also sorry about this situation. These questions appear during any talk and we hope that our work can maintain and support the good relationships between our two countries. Culture shouldn’t have borders. What first attracted you to become a collecto, dealer and to found a gallery specialising in modern and contemporary art? Actually during my childhood I was very interested in the objects which survived from the collection of my great-grandfather. My grandmother always showed me them and I was integrated to the art life from the very beginning. My parents were collecting a little and we still have those pictures. And then it was a coincidence because after graduating from the University, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. I didn’t really have an interest in work and engineering and architecture which I was doing. So I switched to art and my friends encouraged me and led me to the world of collectors. That’s how it came about and I’m happy with it. Do you have any future plans to do any more projects in the UK? Yes we plan to make another auction dedicated this time to metaphysics in Russian art. It is a sort of refuge of artists in their world and their homes and their studios. It is also very interesting and we would like to do the auction twice more with more lots, maybe 100. It will be in November for Russian Art Week later this year. I would like to thank all the people who have helped us here in London, because we have found that almost everybody who we are talking to is anxious to help and likes our idea, from the auctions, such as Sotheby’s, Mark Poltimore helped us to find an auctioneer here, our friends from Frieze, everyone at Erarta Gallery and you Theodora and the Russian Art & Culture team! It is very nice to work in these friendly conditions. RUSSIAN COSMISM FORMS PART OF THE RUSSIAN ART WEEK PROGRAMME. VISIT WWW.RUSSIANARTWEEK.CO.UK TO DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE GUIDE TO THIS EVENT. Russian Cosmism: Modern & Contemporary Art Exhibition: 29 May–3 June 2014 Open: Thursday, Friday and Tuesday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10-5pm, Sunday and Monday 12noon-5pm Curator’s tour: Saturday 31 May, 3pm, Sunday 1 June, 3pm Auction: Tuesday 3 June, 6.30pm Presented by Maxim Boxer: Russian Modern & Contemporary Art at Erarta Galleries London, 8 Berkeley Street W1J 8DN Russian Cosmism Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/469341346527487/?fref=ts Erarta Gallery: www.erartagalleries.com