Red Art Galleries is a British company specialising in East European Art, established in September 2014. Their goal is to assemble the most complete collection of artworks from the Former Soviet Union. The activity of Red Art Galleries is not limited solely to the web; they are a regular contributor at art history conferences and frequently publish white paper case studies on many aspects of Socialist Realism and East European Art. In the future they are planning to expand the historical and artistic boundaries of East European Art and feature some of the best contemporary artists of the region. Our editor Theodora Clarke met with the Gallery’s team in Kiev to talk about its history and today’s market for East European art.
Theodora Clarke: Why did you decide to found Red Art Galleries? Why did you decide to collect East European art?
Mark Rayner: My family has always collected art, and during my business trips to Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia starting from 1990, I was meeting people involved in various investment projects, and I kept seeing these paintings on walls at factories and farms. They were fascinating pictures, and I thought: “How much is that?” The prices tended to be just a few hundred dollars. I was surprised and thought: “You do not see how important is this art, you do not see these people have painted your history.” That is how I started collecting. Now I have met different families and I am interested to hear the history of an artist and the history of the Soviet period. What attracts me, as a collector, is the hunt for the art, going to dachas, basements, factories, coal-mining areas on business and coming across this fascinating art. In the West artists were rarely painting their history. In the UK there were very few artists that were painting their history, such as mining and farming. It has just fascinated me that there was this amazing art and talent, which was largely unknown abroad, and I simply fell in love with it.
TC: The Russian avant-garde artists are the most well-known in the West. If you look at the Russian Art Week sale results artists like Kandinsky, Chagall and Goncharova have been bought for record prices, but you have collected a number of Socialist Realism works and late 20th century Russian art, which is more unusual for a British collector. What is it about this later period in Russian art which attracted you and how do you choose a work to buy?
MR: I like works which are colourful and which tell a story, mainly genre paintings and images of people or workers. The most interesting art for me is the industrial art, such as workers from Chernobyl, factories or coal-miners, the steel-workers in the Impressionistic style. I am maybe not an expert in art, but I collect it because I love it. I did not look at it as at an investment. Maybe I have bought a lot of the wrong things, but I have always bought what I liked, and the Impressionistic style is my favourite one.
TC: Who is your favourite artist?
MR: One of my favourite painters is Tatiana Golembievskaya from the 1960s with her work Harvest Festival or The Spirit of Ukraine. I think that particular painting of harvest time is maybe the best genre painting from the former Soviet Union. I also like Revold Baryshnikov and his work Locomotive is one of my favourite; it is very dramatic. One of my favourite contemporary artists is Anatoly Kryvolap, a tremendous abstract expressionist. His artworks remind me of the more colourful paintings by Gerhard Richter. One of his paintings is actually in the Russian Art Week Guide, inside front cover.
TC: I would like to talk about Red Art Galleries, could you introduce us to the rest of your team with us today and explain to us more about your aims?
Darina Rayner: I am the founder and director of Red Art Galleries and I am Mark’s daughter. We set up the gallery in order to promote the family’s collection that has been bought over past twenty five years and to offer some for sale in the UK, Europe and worldwide. We want to offer people art that they have not seen before. There are approximately two thousand paintings in our collection.
TC: Do you collect only paintings or other mediums as well?
DR: Yes, it is mostly paintings with a few sculptures. In addition, we have pencil drawings, lithographs and a number of student works from the 1950s. If you would like to collect something, you should start collecting works from the 1950s as it is very good quality and relatively low price! You can still get good value, but the prices are shooting up.
TC: Do you have plans to open a gallery space to exhibit works from the collection?
DR: Yes, we are thinking about it. It could be at Newport Beach, California, because we already have property out there and the amount of interest in Russian art in America is extraordinary. All art seems to go through London, but it is a very expensive to open a gallery there. We have rented a boardroom in Mayfair, a fantastic space, and we could fit out this one floor with our art, and this area would be by appointment only.
TC: Maybe you should start with an exhibition during Russian Art Week to showcase your collection and spread the word about the gallery! But you need to plan ahead to organise the exhibition to coincide it with auction houses and their Russian sales.
DR: Yes, the market for Socialist Realism works are growing; only in last ten years they have gone up ten times in price. Some of these artists are very expensive.
Denis Belkevich: It is important to know the background of these artists from an investment point of view. When I graduated in Art and Finance from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York, I followed the development of one particular artist of the Russian Avant-Garde, Petr Konchalovsky. We increased his value three times during a few years. He was one of the record sales at the Sotheby’s sale during Russian Art Week. After our activities Christie’s put up his painting on the auction cover. 2011 was the year for Konchalovsky. My aim, as the Managing Director of Red Art Galleries, is to make Socialist Realism a more attractive period of art for investors.
There are over seventy art funds which deal with billion of bonds, this is art converted into money. We have launched a programme through which we are trying to include Socialist Realism in these portfolios. Art funds give to emerging markets up to fifteen per cent of these diversified portfolios such as China, India and Latin America. During my business trip to Luxembourg to Deloitte’s Art & Finance conference, I met with several art funds, for example, The Fine Art Fund Group and Philip Hoffman. We agreed what set of documents is needed to begin including Socialist Realism into these art funds’ diversified portfolios. These were to have repeated sales and a strong auction presence, both in terms of estimates and hammer prices. We need to understand the top art collectors and to make this information accessible to them. This is maybe the main goal behind the gallery being established.
TC: The challenge might be that Socialist Realism has such a political context, it may not be as popular with international collectors as say the Wanderers are. At the Russian Art Week sales there is always huge interest in earlier classical works such as Aivazosvsky seascapes, Shishkin landscapes or Repin portraits. What kind of response have you received from the collectors with regards to collecting Socialist Realism?
DR: We also have a number of other Russian paintings, about 30-35 percent of the total number of works, which include beautiful landscapes. For me the best subject is often the Russian winter and I like to collect scenes with snow, which are far removed from Socialist Realism. We own at least a hundred paintings of Russian winter scenes.
TC: Socialist Realism seems to be a growing market as it is perhaps the less well known to international collectors.
DR: We brought our collection for an exhibition to Vienna and we did a research on what people like in the United States. There were lovely winter scenes and other beautiful landscapes, but people were mainly interested in Socialist Realism. I have spoken to other big collectors and what was fascinating for them is that in most countries in the world all their art is known, there have been thousands of books written about these artists. And in this case of Russia and the Soviet Union they suddenly see this amazing art, which no one knew about. Collectors are now adding Socialist Realism from an investment perspective.
During this exhibition we also had people from different embassies coming to see it and they were surprised; they did not know these works existed, they started asking where could they get some of this. Afterwards we have donated some paintings to the National War Museum. When people see these artworks, they are surprised they have never heard about these artists before, but also how they look much better than on the website or in a photograph.
TC: This is an interesting point. The process of selling art today is totally changing with the rise of an online market. Traditionally many collectors would never buy a picture after seeing it only on a website. What is the situation now? Are collectors happy to buy works online or do they still prefer to see the works in person?
DR: What we set up is actually not a pure online gallery. Our customers pay a part of the full price to a London top law firm and they sign a contract with them. It says that once the online sale is confirmed, the gallery sends the painting out, and the client has seven days to view it. Afterwards they either send the rest of the funds to us or they sent the work back, paying the return shipment costs.
TC: Who at the bulk of your buyers? Is it Russian collectors buying Russian paintings or is it a more international clientele?
DR: We have sold several industrial works to a Swedish collector, Impressionistic landscapes to France, seascapes to California, which sold just two days they appeared on the website. We also have sold, very surprisingly, several Severe-style paintings to people from Scottsdale, Arizona who then put them in the Fleischer Museum. So, it is quite a mix of clients in terms of geography. We also have Chinese clients who are buying purely Socialist Realist paintings.
TC: Do you plan to do an exhibition of your collection? For example, the Filatov Art Fund arranged the Popkov exhibition at Somerset House and the Tsukanov Family Foundation sponsored an exhibition of Russian art and World War II at the Saatchi Gallery, two of the only exhibitions of the Soviet period I have seen recently in London. Do you think there is a lack of knowledge about Socialist Realist amongst the general public?
DB: This summer overall was full of good news for Russian art. First of all, Art Russe and the Filatov Foundation, have announced their intention to open a museum of Socialist Realism. Then Georgy Nisskiy’s painting Over Snowy Fields from 1964 was sold for 1.7 million pounds at Sotheby’s to Alexey Ananiev; it was a record sale for Socialist Realism. Also the National Confederation of Union of Artists, the successors of the Union of Artists of the Soviet Union, said that fifty thousand objects of the Socialist Realism period are ready to be sold on the market, but they will put out only ten masterpieces per year. And it was our turn to add to this development in the beginning of September 2014.
MR: The idea is not to sell all our collection, but selected works of art. Because as many collectors I hate to sell. More than ten years ago I gave my collection to my daughter and she does not want to sell it. What we want to do is to offer other people’s works of art for sale, and take our commission for the operation.
DB: Going back to your question about our main goal. We are a British company specialising in Eastern European art. There are two things I would like to point out – ‘a British company’ and ‘Eastern European art’. It may sound unusual and rather contradictory, but it is a very attractive contradiction, because ‘British’ means ‘quality’ and Eastern European art is an undiscovered, emerging market. We actually have many contemporary works of art in the collection and are regularly adding new works and artists from the region.
Please visit Red Art Galleries website for more information.