Good addiction

Good addiction

Philosophers Marianna Sardarova
Marianna Sardarova Philosophers

There are countless definitions of art, i.e., attempts to express the inexpressible – endless artistic reproductions of reality or fantasy, and such global activities as literature, architecture, sculpture, painting, graphics, music, dancing, the theatre, and the cinema. Still, the matter is, actually, easy enough. Philosophers have long agreed upon art being what experts call so. Thus says Marianna Sardarova, a real connoisseur & art collector and the founder of the RuArts Gallery and the RuArts Foundation for developing modern art in Russia.

Russia was once well-known for its talented artists, but Russian art never became cross-cultural globally. Bleeding Edge Art alone hit it big. Even though modern Russian art is by no means attractive for investments, over the last 20 years, we’ve been trying to stir up an interest in it, which is, by all means, increasing, though not dramatically. 

Today, Americans determine all art trends. About ten years ago, Chinese artists were the fashion, but it turned out to be a soap bubble – jacked-up prices and nothing more — so soon, everything calmed down. Now, the market is free from global passions of the kind. Still, we are witnessing a growing interest in dark-skinned artists who were formerly out of scope or had something to do with decolonization in Africa, South America, and Asia. Female artists attract more attention too. The current global socio-political tendencies cause all that.

The RuArts Foundation collects only modern Russian art, everything from the Sixtiers to street art, which has interested us for a long time, so we’ve made it fashionable in the Russian market.  

Artist colonies are few now. Worthy of note are the Perkinists, the North – 7 Circle of St. Petersburg, and the bright and extraordinary Streetwise. Our bringing many of them into the international art market was the right thing to do, to be sure. ‘True?’, our next semi-annual exhibition, is an attempt to see the artists with the street background, whose works we’re actively purchasing, for what they are. We provide the young with institutional support for them to make better progress.

Each can become famous or remain as he is, which depends neither on me nor, maybe, even on the artist.

The works I myself collect attract me in terms of expressing a subjective viewpoint. Others may not appreciate it, but I do. Most of the Foundation’s collection is artwork created by living young artists. Cooperation with us opens new prospects for them. Each can become famous or remain as he is, which depends neither on me nor, maybe, even on the artist. It’s either written in the stars or not. Some of them have fantastic yet unrealised potentials. Many cannot cope with the pressure of institutions and the art community demanding more artwork of better quality. Some have exhibited their works only once, while others keep on developing. In other words, many pieces of the puzzle must dovetail for an artist to go global.

On the whole, the Russian art market is quite dynamic. The sales are not as high as expected and desired, but people do fall in love with art, which is good enough as the first step.  An interest in art is lifelong. Once you’ve caught the bug, you always long to see something new. While travelling, you enjoy the local nature and sights as your heart desires, but you cannot help visiting yet another exhibition. Always and wherever you are. It’s an addiction but a good one. 

I started my collection long ago with just a couple of pictures, when my husband and I possessed next to nothing, moving from one flat to another. One fine day, decorating our first country house, I became deliberate about it. My husband’s taste and mine turned out to be different, but we managed to come to terms and took turns selecting the next painting to be acquired. For example, some eight years ago, even though not being crazy about Marc Chagall, but knowing how much I loved his art, he gave me his picture as a birthday present. Meanwhile, the collection of Russian emigrant artists we’ve got in our flat, I built from scratch all by myself — being too busy at the time, he left it up to me. 

Twenty or so years ago, still inexperienced, I would talk to exhibition supervisors and antique shop owners I knew, who answered my questions and advised me how to bid up at auctions.

We have never viewed our acquisitions as an investment package. Otherwise, artwork should be kept in a vault. To us, art is a life companion. Sometimes, at exhibitions, you buy pictures whose value changes later. It’s a coin toss, whether it will rise or fall, and you must always bear it in mind. I was privileged to be free to purchase whatever I liked, and I am so very grateful to my husband for that. Twenty or so years ago, still inexperienced, I would talk to exhibition supervisors and antique shop owners I knew, who answered my questions and advised me how to bid up at auctions. Once, I asked my husband for a piece of his mind on a work I admired. He looked at me and said, ‘If the thing appeals to you, go ahead and buy it.’  

Art dealers often buy artwork at one price and, after some time, sell it with profit.

It’s an important story. As a collector, you buy a work of art because looking at it and feeling connected with it, you like it and want it in your life. While investing, you listen to experts and try not to exceed a particular limit. Art dealers often buy artwork at one price and, after some time, sell it with profit. It’s just business.

At times, curious things occur. Once, an art dealer showed me a Korovin he’d had in his sitting-room for 20 years and told me how much he loved it. Well, it’s on my wall now. Such stories are not rare, as art dealers part with artwork easier than collectors do. 

Sometimes, auction houses ask me to sell them pictures I bought from them some time ago at a much higher price. Some people can easily part with things replacing them with something else. I am not of this kind.

Now and then, not too often, though, I send my canvases to exhibitions.
One of them travelled for two years via five Scandinavian museums. At the moment, one piece is on exhibit in Belgium. Paintings are like children – it’s OK to let them roam around for a while. It’s all about having them in your life but not just keeping them by your side.

My collection speaks for itself. I’ve got everything, starting with the classical Ivan Aivazovsky, Ivan Shishkin, Victor Borisov-Musatov, and such Russian emigrant artists as Konstantin Korovin, Serge Sudeikin, Zinaida Serebriakova, Natalia Goncharova, and Léon Bakst, to name just a few. The collection also features foreign masters of all arts, from photography to sculpture. I’ve got a Banksy, purchased before he won fame, as well as Keith Haring, Tony Cragg, Jaume Plensa, Yayoi Kusama, and Santiago Calatrava. Not long ago, I visited some sculptors’ workshops in Mexico. Purchasing yet another piece of sculpture, I let the artist know what kind of company he was lucky to join, and he was flattered.  

At first, you act cautiously but, little by little, learn to trust yourself. I certainly have trustworthy assistants, but sometimes, especially under unusual circumstances, say, at an altitude of 13,000 metres, making a decision is entirely up to me. That’s exactly how I bought the Banksy – on board a plane en route to our holiday destination, having made sure I would stay in touch with the auction during that long flight.

I am a serious-minded collector and never make spontaneous purchases even though, me being very passionate, there’s always a lot of emotion involved. My first feeling on looking at a piece of art is of great importance. If a work grabs me, I will be thinking about it. Otherwise, even if they tell me to pay attention to advantageous details, I take a listen but make a decision myself anyway.

I avoid buying artwork with a doubtful background, so the Lord has saved me from nongenuine works. All my deals are clean and made, as a rule, at auctions or with trustworthy art dealers valuing their good reputations. Twenty years ago, the risk of ending up with a copy was much higher than now. As to the classical Russian paintings, with some copied back in the artists’ lifetime, there’s nothing we can do about it. You can run multiple checks on the canvas and paints, but what’s the use if they date back to the original’s times? Once, there was a doubtful Léger. The subject matter – an orchestra – was quite typical of the painter’s artwork, so the naked eye could not determine whether it was a genuine piece. With no specialists on the artist available in Russia, I had to invite one from New York City. The expert brought all the necessary equipment but supposed he might have to X-ray the canvas. However, his tools proved sufficient, and he figured out it was a copy. The canvas turned out to have been fixed on the frame at least three times. Besides, the expert found traces of pencil outlines  – the technique never used by Léger. I was fascinated by the work of the professional, who had once, after the 1989 coup d’etat in Romania, estimated the value of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s entire art collection.

Telling true art from a substitute and a copy from the original is equally challenging. With gallery exhibitions and crystal-clear art shop stories, it used to be easy. Nowadays, it’s a matter of your visual experience. A four-year-old child can learn to read the words of ‘War and Peace’ but cannot grasp the book’s message. The more you see, the more you feel what’s in your line and what’s not. That’s what it’s all about. Even a heap of rubbish can be art. Seeing it, you may wonder what on earth it is and think you could make something like that too. In the meantime, it is art, indeed, and if you find out what it took the artist to arrive at this heap and what meanings he put into it, it may become a revelation to you. Far from everything can be perceived visually. There are black-and-white things, but looking at something totally new, you do need a guide. That’s what our mission is all about.

When asked what I could advise novice collectors, I say you’ve got
to see a hell of a lot of artwork to acquire a rich visual experience and always listen to knowing art dealers’ advice. It’s just like extensive reading — the more you read, the clearer you see that far from everything is worth reading.