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The Great Britain - Russia Society
Russian Art  In London. The Commercial Dimension
Article by Ann Kodicek
August 2005

Twenty years ago, Bond Street bustled with newly liberated Russian artists, presenting their portfolios to the Western art world. For a time, every gallery had its Russian artist. Russian art, of every kind, was “in”, and selling by the arshin. Then people learned that the Union of Artists (to which virtually all these artists belonged) was not the Soviet equivalent of the Royal Academy and that these artists, even at home, were largely unknown. Prices plummeted, collectors began to hate their purchases, salerooms were lumbered with shiftless works and Russian artists worth their salt moved on to Germany or USA.

With the millennium, Russian markets became interesting and art outlets have re-emerged. Many London art dealers now operate online rather than on the street. Eastern European art of all kinds can be seen in rented gallery space in Southwark, Cork Street or Shepherd Market. A few traditional galleries remain and those surveyed here are all in London’s West End.

* * *
Matthew Bown Gallery
1st floor,
11 Savile Row
London W1S 3PG
http matthewbown.com

Matthew Bown (formerly Matthew Cullerne Bown) is the senior player in the field. As a dealer who is also a curator and writer, he is unique. Matthew trained as a painter at Camberwell School of Art and the Slade and, in the late 1980s, spent two years in USSR, first as a stazher at the Stroganov and Repin Institutes of Moscow and Leningrad respectively and later as a researcher at Moscow State University, where he began his second book Art Under Stalin. In addition to Contemporary Russian Art (1989), the first Western survey on contemporary art in Russia, Matthew has written two books on Socialist Realist art, a dictionary of Russian and Soviet painters and a monograph on Ilya Tabenkin.

Amidst all this, he runs a business. His first gallery was IZO, near Berkeley Square. Now at new premises in Savile Row, he specialises in contemporary Russian work by artists living in Moscow and USA. Matthew occasionally embarks on a creative project of his own, such as his social documentary, My Night with Julia, a DIY movie in which he talked all night with a Moscow prostitute. The film was shown last winter on Channel 4. His various ventures are part of a single aim.

“I like exploring unknown areas and finding gaps in knowledge. I enjoy plugging lacunae in our culture,” he explains.

Autumn shows at Matthew Bown Gallery:
August/September 2005, in conjunction with Ben Uri Gallery (International Jewish Artist of the Year)
Vitaly Komar: early work from the 1960s


White Space Gallery
St Peter’s Church,
Vere Street
London W1G 0DG

Showing the newest trends in contemporary art from Moscow and Petersburg is Anya Stonelake, whose White Space Gallery, which has been operating since 2001, has won considerable acclaim in art circles despite its unusual address at St Peter’s, an English baroque church off Oxford Street. Anya also shows at art fairs. Like Matthew, she represents all forms of art, including video and performance. Not all her projects are for profit and she has benefited from British Council and other funding for curatorial projects which sometimes extend beyond Russia. The gallery has close links with the contemporary department of Petersburg’s Russian Museum.

White Space Gallery attracts top artists, including Ilya Kabakov, Dmitry Prigov, Oleg Kulik and members of the Leningrad Mitki group. 

Anya trained as a designer in St Petersburg, is married to a British graphics designer and has two small daughters. 

Autumn shows at White Space Gallery:
September:Installation by Irina Korina
September/October: Exhibition in conjunction with Frieze Art Fair


Hay Hill Gallery
11B Hay Hill
London W1J 6DL

At Hay Hill Gallery, near Berkeley Square, ex-mathematics professor Mikhail Zaitsev has been importing paintings and sculpture through Sirin, the commercial arm of Moscow Tretyakov Gallery’s contemporary section, since it first opened at Krymsky Val.
The generally accepted milestone of success for a London art gallery is a three-year survival record and Hay Hill has already surpassed this. It has an appreciative clientele from UK, Ireland, USA and further afield.

“I don’t have an art education”, says Misha, “but I know what people want.”

London connoisseurs are impressed by good figurative technique, interesting themes and a quality of the imagination that he describes as ‘fairytale’, here exemplified by Stanislav Plutenko and other gallery artists (see impressive gallery website).

Misha is also a computer geek and, inter alia, slakes Western demand for Russian keyboards and software. He has lived in London for ten years. His daughter, Xenia Zaitseva, is making waves as a stage and film actress.

Autumn programme at Hay Hill:
Changing display of gallery artists


Alla Bulyanskaya Gallery
31 Bury Street
London SW1Y 6AU

The eponymous owner of Alla Bulyanskaya Gallery proudly heads up the only Russian gallery located within the orbit of Christie’s. The gallery, which is coming up to the end of its first year, is well lit and beautifully appointed, on two floors. Alla shows contemporary works, including former Leningrad unofficial artist Gleb Bogomolov. Her first gallery, Sangat (Bashkiri for “art”) opened in Ufa in 1989 and enjoyed bezumnye uspekhi. One of the first privately owned galleries in the Soviet Union, it was both lionised and vilified. Alla went on to open a successful gallery in Moscow, which specialised in art from Ufa. Now she hopes to make her mark in London, where she also shows at fairs. She is surprised that Londoners, unlike Muscovites, lack the confidence to select pictures according to taste, but agonise about what they ought to buy.

“I always say, have what you like. It’s the only really important criterion,” she says.
Autumn Show at Alla Bulyanskaya Gallery:
Russian contemporary painters and sculptors.


Chambers Gallery
23 Long Lane
London EC1A 9HL

The Chambers Gallery opened at Barbican in October 2004 and specialises in 20th century art, much of it Russian. Legal publisher, Michael Chambers, is fascinated by 20th century Russian history and “the sheer talent of its people”. He is a great enthusiast, especially of the 1920s period. His gallery is run by Evgenia Georgiadis in association with Ekaterina Arsenieva, who previously ran the Avantgarde Gallery in St John’s Wood. TheChambers Gallery recently had two strong exhibitions: unofficial Soviet art from Odessa and, during the summer, Socialist Realist works from various regions of the old USSR.

Autumn show at Chambers Gallery:
Paintings by Russian Impressionists


Danusha Fine Art

Danusha Fine Art director, Tamara Demidenko has been promoting Ukrainian art since 1992. Her collection (named after her son, Daniel), can be viewed by appointment at her Maida Vale apartment or at exhibitions in galleries (including Chambers Gallery) in central London, also Bristol, Scotland, elsewhere in UK and overseas. The joyous, life-affirming work of Danusha gallery artists was first brought to public notice when Brian Sewell lauded paintings by Tetyana Holembievska at the Royal Academy’s summer show in 1996. Tamara’s project this year has been exposure at various venues of remarkable works by Grigoriy Shyshko (1922-1994). This is an artist whose official nationalistic themes and portraits of Soviet nomenklatura were known but whose deeply personal landscape works dedicated to the iron ore mines of Krivyi Rih were never shown during his lifetime.

Autumn programme at Danusha Fine Art:
October 2005:
International Art Fair, Zurich
20-26 November 2005:
Industrial Landscapes by Grigoryi Shyshko
at The Air Gallery
32 Dover Street
London W1S 4NE

MacDougall Arts Ltd
33 St James’s Square
Prices for Russian art are set at often breathtaking rates by the salerooms, and Christie’s and especially Sotheby’s, have been doing astonishingly well in this field for some time. For the past decade, the vast majority of buyers have been Russians, many resident in UK, who wish to possess a piece of their national heritage.

Now a new saleroom, MacDougall’s, an enterprise dedicated exclusively to Russian art, has opened in St James’s. Former investment manager, William MacDougall, a graduate of Stanford and Oxford universities, is of Russian descent. His grandfather, Alexandr Chuholdin, was leader of the Bolshoi orchestra. William made his first trip to Russia 22 years ago, in response to an invitation from long lost cousins. Through them he met his wife Catherine and together they started collecting Russian art at auction. In summer 2004 they founded their own auction house.

“Last year’s London sales of Russian art amounted to £30m. We felt there was space for another house.”

As William points out, it is extremely unusual to open a new auction house in an established capital and still more unusual to open one exclusively dedicated to the art of one country. But Russian art is on the up.

“Russian collectors are rediscovering their own culture”, says William. “They like to buy works by artists they heard of in school. Plus they enjoy rediscovering émigré artists who lost their Russian reputation when they disappeared to the West.”

William thinks Russian art will hold its saleroom values. He feels the art market is an optimistic indicator of the future of Russia’s economy. He does not feel that prices are set too high. For a realistic assessment, he suggests you should “compare prices of Russian art with those for works by Constable and Turner...”

Current prices at MacDougall’s range from £1,000 to £150,000 for a painting or sculpture by a Russian or Ukrainian artist of the 19th or 20th centuries.

The next sale is on November 29 2005.

Ann Kodicek

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