– What was that breaking point when decided to follow the path of an art gallerist?
Opening an art gallery was not obvious for me as I am not educated in art. My degree is telecom engineering. I opened the gallery back in 2008 and we celebrated our 10thanniversary earlier in February this year. And I was guided by two passions: contemporary art and Russian culture. First I got a good education later my parents took me to museums of fine arts. Later in my twenties I started going to galleries, art centres, and fairs in my leisure time. I also read a lot about art. Later I even took evening classes at Ecole de Louvreand at the same I’ve been travelling to Russia since I was twelve years old because I learned Russian at school. So first I learned the language then I had the chance to see exhibitions and meet artists in person. So to answer your question correctly it happened when I first visited Moscow biennale of contemporary art back in 2005. I was really struck by the art I saw and when I came back to Paris I shared my impression on what I had seen, and we agreed that this art was ready to be exhibited in French galleries and that it deserved more attention. Later I met Diana Machulina, the artist that I had seen exhibited at Moscow biennale.
– So she was the one?
She was one of the first Russian artists to impress me. I admired some of her paintings, so I contacted her saying ‘I would really like to meet you’. Later she showed me her other works and I liked what she was doing. Later at some point I offered her to make an exhibition in Paris. That’s how it all started. She proposed a rather political exhibition titled ‘Rubber Soul’. It was reflection on the presidential election taking place in the country at that time.
– It is important for art to present a social statement of the moment.
What I liked best about Diana Machulina is her technique. She makes very realistic paintings. She transmits messages through her paintings very subtly.
– How did you decide to develop the same among other post-Soviet artists, and how do you communicate it through your project? I mean, Diana is a Russian artist so your connection with the country is clear. But as far as I know this not the only thing you do as you like representing other artists from countries that Russia is currently at war with like Ukraine for instance. How do you develop the post-Soviet territory and how do you communicate it through your project?
I address Russian culture more.
– For all post-Soviet countries it’s one.
The whole post-Soviet area attracts the attention of people as they are curious to know what’s going on there. People have discovered recently that, for example, with Louis Vuitton exhibition that the first collectors of Picasso’s works were Russian. A hundred years ago you had Malevich and a score of other artists who were pioneers in abstract art and influenced the world of art in the XX century. If you go to the Pompidou centre there is a Chagall exhibition representing the school of Vitsebsk.
– Which is in the Republic of Belarus.
Exactly. We see there was a lot of activity which later influenced the world. However, later at some point art went underground. During the Soviet era a lot of the heritage was lost, and people even forgot about this. After the USSR collapsed the culture of that area has been mostly referred to as Russian although that is not technically correct. For instance, Malevich was born in Ukraine.
– So it’s not about the actual borders but rather about heritage.
Also, to answer your question, in art everyone is a friend. Art transcends borders and nationalities. That is why the gallery can work with any artists from all over the world. Going back to Diana Machulina embodies the beautiful conceptualism which really has a meaning of its own but also means artworks that you can live with which is aesthetically pleasing. In France people want art that is beautiful to look at. But something that is beautiful to look at doesn’t have to be stupid; it might have a meaning to it. The beautiful Russian conceptualism is well reflected by the artists the gallery has chosen.
– Why do you think it is important to purchase art, decorate living spaces with it? How do you inspire collectors? This is a message we would like to convey in this article. How do you start going into that?
First of all, artwork should bring emotions. Every time we go to museums and art fairs only a few artworks capture our attention. That is the case for big collectors as well. Only a few works attract their attention and inspire them to buy art. As a gallerist I should say it is important to buy art so that the artist could continue working. Artists are important for the society. I believe during the Soviet times people in Russia forgot the meaning of artists as opposed to European countries with the likes of France or Italy with their rich artistic life. However, even during those times there were collectors who helped artists and brought art to its present state.
– How do you inspire collectors? I know that within the Suite Russe project you hold talks with collectors. Our readers might be interested to join the conversation first as listeners.
It’s a very interesting point. Today for someone who is not yet a collector pushing the doors of an art gallery may be intimidating. You enter a white cube with no-one to talk to, no-one to explain the meaning of artworks or to simply make you feel comfortable. And I think it is more about creating the experience of art as opposed to just showcasing it in a way that an art gallery or the Internet can do. So I suppose the question should be ‘What is the world without art?’ or ‘What are you missing when you have no art?’. The answer is you’re missing out on what it is to be human. Why is that hotels now nave art placed in the bedrooms? Because it brings something unique, something emotional, something that you won’t find anywhere else. Once you start you cannot live without it. Artworks are like people. Nowadays we meet many people in the course of our lifetime but there only a few people that capture your attention and make you want to see them again. An artwork that you fall in love with is exactly like that once you have it at home. Buying art is also an investment. Galleries work with some artists for more than 10 years. The more an artist is exhibited the more value he gets. For example, I started with Vladimir Logutov in 2008, and just recently — 10 years later — he received an innovation prize here in Russia. However, those who bought his works before might have bigger value on their hands as the artist will get more recognition, and his career will keep growing.
– Who of the artists of the past would you like to meet in real life?
It’s an interesting question. Of course, I’d love to meet avant-garde artists and Malevich in particular because his art was so intense. Now you can only read what people said about him. He was very active within a short time span.
– So is it Malevich or Chagall or the whole group of avant-gardists?
You’d be surprised. If I had to name one it would be Marcel Duchamp. First of all he was the iconoclast of his time. He could simply buy a product in a supermarket, put it up in an exhibition space and call it an artwork. I like his quote ‘Art is made by the viewer as much as by the artist’. So according to Duchamp the viewer is also important in making an artwork. I can relate to this statement.
– Beauty is a big part of your life. Of course, everyone has a different understanding of beauty. As we are making an interview for the Beautiful Magazine how would you define ‘beautiful’?
I would describe it in five words: beauty will save the world.
– Do you truly believe this?
Yes, I do. It comes from Dostoevsky. Also, to answer your previous question the beauty of the gallery is that one can meet the authors in person and buy their art. So today is the moment.
– It has never happened before.
– We live in a digital world. How do you think it affects the world of art? Do you use the digital space yourself?
It has changed the world of art. Nowadays one can send images of artworks via email and other means. One can post it on Instagram and promote the artist. Customers don’t even have to go to galleries to buy art as it can be purchased online at different platforms. Our gallery has adapted to this reality quite well in my opinion. Fewer people go to galleries, and what they look for in art galleries is not just artworks but an experience. We introduce a more personal approach to art. Shortly, at galleries one would expect people to come to them whereas at Suite Russe we come to them. So it’s going to be a different dynamic. The traffic at galleries is becoming lower and lower, and that’s why we need to offer a specific experience. Digital tools are good but the more you rely on them the more human contact you need as well. That is what Suite Russe is all about: making the best of digital tools to engage with people and give visibility and provide them with a real experience. In the end of the day a collector still buys artworks so the digital age will never replace the magic of having an artwork for yourself.
– What are the plans for Suite Russe? Where is going to take place next and what does this project mean to you?
Running an art gallery is a challenge. We made Suite Russe at several locations: twice in Paris, once in London and once in New York. However, we are not quite happy with taking it all over the world. Every time we have to assess the results to make the next step. We will surely continue giving people personal experiences always focusing on excellence and diversity to promote the artists whom we like.
– Do you know when and where the next project is going to happen?
Exclusively for Beautiful Magazine: the next Suite Russe is taking place in Paris in November in a slightly different format. Still, to keep the personal experience it will be an appointment-only event for a few people in contact with the gallery. At the moment the gallery has two missions: education via conferences open to the public and commercial promotion.
– If, for instance, one of our readers decides to take one of the two paths, could they send you an email or schedule an appointment?
Yes, they can. We’d like to keep this personal approach on the one-to-one basis. At Suite Russe there are no group visits. There is always a one-to-one or one to a few approach. This is what makes the difference. If you want people to have an emotion, you need to provide them with the right framework. Have some intimacy. Have some timing. There is no need to rush. When we do Suite Russe at big fairs people with packed agendas still stay because they like this cosy environment where they can have some tea or champagne…
– …and meeting people and having a talk which I have personally experienced. You go to a penthouse and you never know who you’re going to meet but you can always be sure that there will be the most exclusive people from all over the world.
Exactly. That is why we always think about the next step. We realise that people need more time so that we schedule it for a longer period. Still, the goal is to be a gallery for contemporary post-Soviet art open for collaboration with other artists.
– Earlier today we spoke about a ‘slow revolution’. And you mentioned the artist who inspired you first and referred to her work as ‘slow revolution’. What is this project in your life? Is this also a slow revolution? After all it’s quite heavy to carry this idea. It takes a lot of your attention and passion and energy to do all of this.
I might say it’s a slow revolution but as I have said before this gallery has brought me a new life. What I especially like about it is that there is a new challenge every day. I believe the biggest reward is when a collector buys a piece of art and trusts the artist and the gallery.
Written by Katerina Kashtan
Translated by Tony Savosin
Photo by Dmitri Legrand