The market for Baltic art has slowly grown from a state of non-existence during the Soviet period to a free and open economy since independence.
Yet, the stereotypical image of a poor, starving artist still seems to ring true in the Baltic states. While Estonia is slowly developing a stronger art market, Latvia and Lithuania are still lagging far behind.
In this week's edition of industry Insider, The Baltic Times looks at the lives of Baltic artists and art galleries, and the direction the newfound market is taking.
THE market for Baltic art in Latvia and Lithuania is sadly wanting. Galleries often find they are unable to grow beyond small one-room venues and are forced to close their doors after only a year or two of business. Even the most prominent artists struggle to sell their work and must find alternative employment to pay the bills.
The problem seems to be that there is no long-standing tradition for Baltic artists to fall back on. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Baltic artists suddenly found it possible to make a living selling their creative works, but were left to figure out for themselves how to go about selling it.
"Galleries don't really know how to sell art. This is mainly because we don't have any education or any market before independence. Soviet art was only really pictures of Lenin or workers toiling in the fields. There was no such thing as a market then. Now I don't think that people have enough experience [in art sales]," Galka Coolio, founder and owner of Biezpiens art gallery told The Baltic Times.
Biezpiens is one of many galleries around Riga that is preparing to go out of business. Coolio explained that no matter how hard she tried, there was simply not enough interest in the art market. Low demand is putting the squeeze on galleries around the country, and is furthermore making it almost impossible for young artists to break into the field.
"[Artists] don't really break into [the market], because there really is no market to break into. They have to run advertising agencies or work in real estate to make a living," she said. "Latvian artists do not have the experience or the training for selling art, they only have the creative talent."
Lithuania is experiencing the same problem, as artists are frequently unable to find buyers.
"There is no deep market tradition and because of promotion techniques, we have no possibilities to show artists' works outside [of the country]. The Internet doesn't work effectively because the problem for visual artists, in many cases, is that people don't want to buy art online from looking at photographs," Egle Bertasiene, information manager at the Lithuanian Artists' Association, told The Baltic Times.
"Some can live on their paintings and graphic designs but it [stems from] private contacts... for example, the Lithuanian Parliament orders postcards during the holidays," she said.
The lack of prominent galleries in Latvia and Lithuania means that artists end up selling most of their works out of abandoned warehouses or at special festivals. Artists find themselves without the opportunity to access high-profile galleries.
"There are also many small underground places where artists can show their work. These are abandoned factories, warehouses. Sometimes even apartment buildings or finished but uninhabited buildings. The problem is having a good place for large exhibitions for famous artists. We have a lack of space for contemporary artists," Raitis Smits, a prominent Latvian artist and teacher at the Academy of Arts, told The Baltic Times.
"For contemporary art there is really no private market yet," he said.
All hope is not lost for the arts community, however, as a small number of collectors in Latvia and Lithuania are finally starting to lead the way in forging a Baltic art market.
"We can see some collectors that have appeared over the past few years, especially in the direction of Latvian art. Local Latvians have money, and some of them are interested in buying good Latvian art from the past," Viktor Astanin, director of the "Antiqua" antiques and art center, told The Baltic Times.
Even Coolio was hopeful that the future of art in the Baltics would be bright, despite having to close down her own gallery. "I think that if the young generation of artists works together to create a good environment, then it is definitely going to happen."
"Maybe when people stop buying Maseratis and other expensive cars, there will be a market. But that probably won't happen for a few more years," she said.