Courtesy of Gallery Elena Shchukina

Courtesy of Gallery Elena Shchukina

Russian born Elena Shchukina has recently opened two new galleries in London. Mayfair’s Lees Place opened in September 2013, whilst Knightsbridge’s Beauchamp Place gallery opened in February 2014. Gallery Elena Shchukina’s two locations are currently showing exhibitions of Russian art, timed to coincide with the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, and featuring as headline exhibitions of Russian Art Week 21-28 November. Elena Shchukina talks to editor Theodora Clarke about the two exhibitions and her experience as a gallery director.   Theodora Clarke: What made you decide to open not one but two galleries of international art in London? Elena Shchukina: I was always interested in art and design, and I had the idea of owning a gallery in London. There are many galleries in London and I wanted to do something a little different. My ambition was to present art in a different way. I wanted to show art alongside design or interior pieces. I was really interested in a few artists that I came across whilst travelling and I wanted to showcase their works to Londoners. All of this inspired me to open a gallery. We started with the Lees Place gallery and then started to look for another place and found the Beauchamp Place space. It’s a well known location and thought it would be good for design. So I have put on the current Leonid Borisov exhibition in Lees Place, and in Beauchamp Place I’m showing Russian contemporary design. TC: As a gallery what do you specialise in? ES: International artists, for example from Japan, Nigeria, France, Brazil. London is very international so I thought it would work well. We don’t usually display only Russian art, these are two special exhibitions.  TC: How do you go about finding these artists? ES: It differs from exhibition to exhibition. I come across some artists at art fairs, others I am introduced to through friends and contacts. I came across our Japanese artist in a gallery in Paris and developed the exhibition from there. It’s always through different ways. It just falls into place.
The Wheel, Leonid Borisov, courtesy of Gallery Elena Shchukina

The Wheel, Leonid Borisov, courtesy of Gallery Elena Shchukina

TC: How often do you rotate your exhibitions? ES: Last year I wanted to be more active, so we had exhibitions in September, November, January, April, so it was every two months. The current Borisov exhibition will show until January, as I wanted to help celebrate the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, and Russian Art Week. TC: This will be the first time you’ve taken part in the Russian Art Week programme. Why did you decide to take part? ES: Ever since I opened my galleries I’ve always been asked ‘Are you planning to show Russian artists?’. Now I am finally showing Russian artists, so it was really exciting for me. It was an important choice because I am not doing Russian exhibitions all the time. It was important to find a good artist to be interesting to Russians in London. Borisov has never had a solo exhibition in London before, which aligns with my gallery concept. Also Borisov is a follower of Malevich and the Russian Avant-Garde tradition, so to have a link with the Malevich exhibition at Tate is very significant. It has all fallen into place: the Russian Year of Culture, Malevich at Tate, Russian Art Week, and me being Russian myself. TC: What nationality are your buyers mainly? ES: They are international, because I am working with international artists. Also I’m trying to make exhibitions to present the work in a cultural way. So, for example, when I had a French artist exhibiting we held an event for the French Ambassador to the UK. For the Japanese exhibition we collaborated with the Japanese Society etc. I don’t aim to sell Russian art to Russian customers, or French art to French customers, instead I try to attract different people.
Icon, Leonid Borisov, courtesy Gallery Elena Shchukina

Icon, Borisov, Gallery Elena Shchukina

TC: When you’re planning exhibitions do you tend to curate them yourself, or do you bring in outside experts from the different countries you’re showcasing? ES: Usually I always curate exhibitions myself. So the Leonid Borisov exhibition is the first time I have worked with a curator, Anya Stonelake. It’s been really good working with her, she is very knowledgeable about the process of curating and Russian contemporary art. TC: What made you choose Leonid Borisov to present for Russian Art Week? ES: Firstly, I really like his works! I think they will be very interesting for collectors. This is his first exhibition after his death, so I think it is very important, and very significant for his family. It’s also his first solo exhibition in the UK. I think it’s really interesting that he is a follower of the Russian Avant-Garde and it is quite unusual to have such an exhibition in London. There are a few exhibitions on the Russian Avant-Garde in the UK, but not many on its legacy in later Russian art. TC: You were a collector before opening a gallery. How has that experience influenced you in the types of work that you exhibit? ES: I am not only a collector, but also an artist. So firstly I look at work as a collector, then as an artist. I sadly don’t have much time to paint or design anymore. I look at art firstly from an aesthetic point of view, and secondly I like to know that it has a story behind it. TC: What kind of works do you collect personally? ES: I have some Russian artists’ works. One of them I really liked his works, and it was only later that I found out he was Russian! But I collect quite an international mix. TC: Which collection are these Borisov works from?  ES: They are all from his family collection. His porcelain was made in the Imperial Porcelain Factory in Saint Petersburg. We are showing his teapot which is one of three sets that remain: one is with the family, one is in the State Hermitage Museum, and one is here in our gallery in London. So it’s a really special piece. Unfortunately I never met Borisov, but everybody told me he was a very nice person. I think paintings can show the energy of the person who created them, and I think these paintings show a sense of his character and personality.
Born in the USSR installation shot, courtesy of Gallery Elena Shchukina

Born in the USSR installation shot, courtesy of Gallery Elena Shchukina

TC: At your Beauchamp Place gallery you’ve got a totally different Russian exhibition focused on design, could you tell me a bit about it? ES: Well, actually that exhibition originated from the Borisov exhibition. I like to show not only paintings but sculptures and design. So I thought if we’re showing furniture design, then why not product design. So this exhibition of contemporary Russian design is called ‘Born in the USSR’, and showcases the work of fourteen young designers, who were born at the beginning of the 1980s. One of my designs is there too. The idea behind it is to show works that are a modern interpretation of traditional Russian designs. We have an unusual samovar, and an interpretation of a red corner, the traditional place to put an icon. There’s also a white peasant’s smock with embroidery as a barcode motif. We linked the exhibition with London Design Festival, which opened on 11th September. TC: What is the ultimate aim of your galleries? What do you want visitors to experience when they come to Gallery Elena Shchukina? ES: I want to create a certain atmosphere and for people to see art in different media and formats, and for them to feel art as a whole experience. I like to tell stories about artists and their culture; what the artist is trying to say. I want a multicultural experience for my visitors. TC: Your galleries are very clean, uncluttered and modern spaces… ES: Yes, but it ist not a white cube format. For example, for the Japanese exhibition I tried to make it have a feel of a home. I had an 18th century Japanese screen, and bronze pieces. So every time it looks different. It looks very clean now because it has a geometric exhibition. The Brazilian artist we exhibited was also a musician so we had a musical theme, and we rented a piano for the preview. It’s not just visual art, but appeals to all the senses. So each exhibition varies greatly. TC: Who is your favourite artist? ES: It’s such a difficult question, but the most important artist for me is always the one I am collecting in that moment. I suppose my taste is always changing. Of the greats I would say that my favourite is Dali. He did so many different things: paintings, sculptures, and furniture design. I visited them in the museum in Spain, even the architecture of the museum was different. I think for his time he was very brave. He was the one who not only had the ideas, but actually created them. I think he was a pioneer. I was very inspired by him as a student of interior design and I like to collect and present pioneering artists. Leonid Borisov: Lessons in Geometry and Born in the USSR feature as headline exhibitions of the soon-to-be-announced Russian Art Week programme. Gallery Elena Shchukina: galleryelenashchukina.com