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Art for profit and beauty

  • 2010-11-04
  • By Yury Slavik

SELF-HELP: Artists, such as sculptor Gocha Huskivadze (pictured), have suffered the loss of support due to less government spending on art.

RIGA -

More alive, than dead
The problems of the Latvian art market are noted in the Latvian mass-media every 2 or 3 years. There is a huge number of artists, galleries and buyers on the Latvian scale, which are all essential components of the art market. So why does the question about the art market’s viability still arise? I’ve decided to ask directly the members of the Latvian art market.
The following persons expressed their opinions on this problem: the sculptor Gocha Huskivadze, the painters Laima Bikshe and Ludmila Perets, the graphic artist Nele Zirnite and also the representatives of Rigas galleries – Tom Zvirbulis (The Birkenfelds gallery), Norbert Sarmulis (The Antonija gallery), Katrina Neimane (The Slazds gallery) and Yana Nesterovitsa (The Noliktava gallery).
None of these people doubt that the art market  - where artists present their works, galleries organize exhibitions and even manage to sell some pieces - does exist in Latvia.

State order
Professional artists in the Soviet Union were much respected, of course, if their creative style agreed with the “general party policy.”
The gallerist Tom Zvirbulis says: “A huge number of factories, research institutes and other educational institutions, culture and sport centers were built in the Soviet Union. Everywhere there was a need of various thematic panels, paintings, frescos and bas-reliefs. Latvia was the Soviet republic with the most amount of creative people per capita of population. And Latvian artists fulfilled commissions all over the Soviet Union. The connection between government and artists provided museums, culture centers and exhibition halls. They guaranteed the organization of exhibitions and buying of works. Also, the Soviet Union was the most well-read country in the world. So there was enough work for illustrators. At the time of ‘Perestroyka’ there appeared in Latvia salons, which were specialized in definite kinds of art – painting, graphic art, ceramics or glass. The fall of the Iron Curtain provided the appearance of foreign connoisseurs in Latvia - and what is more important - buyers. Also, the institution of commercial galleries had formed and the art business, step by step, became privately owned.”
Then came…

State disorder
“By the mid-’90s there were 15-20 stable galleries with their own spectrum of artists and buyers in Latvia,” Zvirbulis continues. “Generally, before 2000, the top of the modern art market, the percentage of buyers was 50 - 50, where 50 percent were foreign buyers and the other 50, local. The majority of local buyers belonged to the most highly paid class (lawyers, businesspeople and others). There was also a market for Old Masters, which was discrete and wasn’t advertised. The most risky gallerists began to organize the first art sales. At the beginning of the 21st century the art market became stable, with the help of Latvian buyers who in time became more conservative, selective and concerned. With the beginning of the global economic crisis, in 2008, one can see the downswing of money turnover and as a result, a full-scale stagnation,” he says.

A lot of small galleries, salons and some framing studios have stopped their work.
Nowadays Latvian artists are unanimous in their opinion that the government took out of the agenda any procurements of art works for museums. The Latvian Artist Union is bemused by the survival of its own. It is a time for total self-action.

Sotheby’s & Christie’s
The most graphic example of such self-action became the sales organized by the galleries. One of the first galleries, which since 2000 began to organize sales, was the BRI-art gallery. At that time students of the Baltic Russian Institute (today the Baltic International Academy), under the direction of Svetlana Haenko, a senior expert of Russian fine art, set up a very nice tradition: to arrange charitable sales of graphic art in the institute twice a year. It may be said, without exaggeration, that among other Latvian auctions this one was the most successfully implemented long-term project. The following facts confirm this:
•    Students themselves prepared and organized the sales. As a result they received real skills in art work selection, art reviews, value appraisal and selling;
•    In spite of the fact that the auction was considered to be by the students, works of very good quality were presented there;
•    During 10 years the auction gained its own regular customers, who had certainly bought several lots every time;
•    Because of a more than moderate price policy many lots were bought. This, in its turn gave a good opportunity to help a lot of families, which ended up in financial distress. It means that the main purpose was reached.

There is unofficial information that nowadays the next auction is being prepared. This auction most probably will be the last.
The Birkenfelds gallery, in 2005, and the Antonija gallery in cooperation with Ivonna Veiherte’s gallery in 2007 organized their first auctions by contemporary and classical artists’ paintings. In 2007 the auction was held also in cooperation with Hansabank. The cooperation with banks ensured galleries a quite stable process of sales. The Antonija gallery has already held 11 auctions.

During the last two years galleries have joined the auction house Gizeks, which holds sales in the hall of the Moscow Culture and Business Center, and also the private museum of Latvian paintings. The owner of this museum, Raitis Cinks, according to expert opinion, is considered to be a far-sighted and very competent manager.

As for the “time to buy,” now it is quite the suitable “season.” A lot of artists and holders of various kinds and quality of art works want to sell some parts of their collections at unusually inexpensive prices. Considering that the audience still often doesn’t notice high-quality works, or ignores them by virtue of their gravity, the art experts have a good chance to enlarge their collections with wonderful pieces of art, buying them in antique shops or at auctions.

Ours abroad
A lot of artists, in currently complicated situations but with the hope to be more in demand, tend to present their works abroad. There are two main opinions on this:
•    A real master in a foreign country continues to be a real master. A gallerist always sees the real professional and appreciates his works.
•    The works of good masters in foreign countries can’t be richly priced too quickly. It takes 2-4 years to promote a new name because a gallery is a business enterprise, and it takes level of risk to present a new and absolutely untried author.

Myth and Reality
Still, there is one more unanswered question. It is a question of the art market members’ division into two unequal groups: the Latvian majority and the non-Latvian minority. The opinion about the situation of discrimination, impairment of a right, inattention of the Latvian mass-media, and disregard of leading Riga galleries by reference to the artists of a non-titular nation that was accepted by respondents with skepticism and a lot of additions.

My interlocutors expressed different opinions on this problem:
•    Russian artists themselves built up a limited narrow circle and don’t want to change the situation (Yana Nesterovitsa).
•    Latvian mass-media miss the opening ceremonies of non-Latvian artists (Nele Zirnite).
•    Works of non-Latvian artists simply don’t agree with the so-called Latvian style, for which decent sensibility, original national colors and ornament are typical. Therefore their works have poor demand among buyers (Katrina Neimane).
•    Non-Latvian artists don’t have any academic education.
Ludmila Perets, Laima Bikshe, Tom Zvirbulis and Gocha Huskivadze, in their turn, consider these ideas to have some kind of myth. They are sure that a real professional master won’t have such kinds of problems, and the nationality certainly doesn’t matter.