In December, the Snob project and the Winzavod Foundation for the Support and Development of Contemporary Art held a discussion entitled “Collecting art is an occupation for a few. What if it doesn’t?” Alina Kryukova, the founder of the astra gallery project, and Sergey Popov, an art historian and founder of the pop/off/art contemporary art gallery, were invited to discuss the truthfulness of the clichés and gossip surrounding the art world. They talked about the modern art market, the benefits of collecting for personal growth, and also destroyed the myths that a personal art collection is the privilege of a narrow circle of people.
Sergey Popov: I started collecting art when I was 16 years old. I spent the first money I earned on it. Of course, today I understand what terrible mistakes I made in choosing works at an early stage. But it was then that I made my first contacts with artists. In particular, one of them was Oleg Lang and Alexei Vasilyevich Kamensky, the son of the futurist poet Vasily Kamensky.
Alina Kryukova: My first conscious purchase happened not so long ago – in 2019. It was the work of Alisa Yoffe from the Bonfire series. Alice was swinging on a swing, and a fire was burning in front of the canvas – and from the movement of her swings, the flame either moved away, or approached the canvas. And the fire of art absorbed me. When you take the first step, then everything is already there – there is no turning back.
Popov: Collectors often buy lower prices from artists they know because others are less affordable. There are probably over 400 pieces in my collection, but like typical shoemakers without boots, I can’t complete the account. In recent years, my wife and I have been trying to support young artists. We have a wonderful ritual, even a ritual: on the anniversary, we give each other works in the collection. And it’s a big challenge to find something that we both like. Therefore, I would say that in our case, the collection is forced eclecticism.
Kryukov: I think it is important for a beginner collector to allocate a certain amount for investments for a certain period of time.
Popov: You can start with 5000 rubles. Each artist has a range of inexpensive works, sketches, print runs. Even the most expensive of our compatriots, the artist Ilya Kabakov, is in circulation. In this case, we are talking about several hundred euros. I know a case when a collector accidentally bought his graphics for 2000 euros at an auction. Its real price is obviously five times more, he was really lucky. By the way, this is what auctions are good for. They not only accelerate prices, you can buy works at a lower cost – you just have to look.
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But it is very important to understand that even for a decent amount you can buy bad art. The range is huge, it seems to me that the circulating number of bad or not works of art in relation to what we still qualify as a work of art is at best 9 to 1. Nine bad and one good. The collector is actually faced with a difficult choice: buy one work, but worthy, or split the amount and buy two or three positions, or pay attention to decent young authors.
Kryukov: I’ll say it differently. There are buyers of posters over the sofa for 10,000 euros. For them, it is not a sum. They do not think about names, logic, they generally do not care where to buy. They often visit galleries with the designer, they like the color and suit the wallpaper – we take it. I am interested in other clients. My gallery started out as an affordable art project priced up to 30,000 rubles. We offered the work of graduates of art universities. We immediately built a different level of communication with clients, a conversation about the idea and meanings. And two years later they came back and said: “Alin, I’m ready for more, find me a curator who will collect a collection, ready to travel, look.”
There are people with a more systematic approach to collecting, like in business. For many, art and social capital do not fit into a single puzzle, although this is an absolutely direct, logical connection. I buy art, I form a circle of friends, I form my reputation, I develop social capital, which leads to greater enrichment and development.
Popov: I want to emphasize that the gallery owner does not select the work for the client to his taste. A gallery owner normally should not be a fanatic of some direction or typology in art. Gallerists who, for example, support geometric abstraction are nonsense today. You have to understand that collectors then live every day with this art. They should enjoy every day, both aesthetic and intellectual.
Kryukov: That is why the coolest strategy for a collector is to go to study in the direction of art, the art market. Of course, walk through the galleries and get a visual experience. If you are completely unfamiliar with the scene, then by buying the art of the young, you can quickly form your taste. What is good taste? It doesn’t mean saying yes to just one person. It means saying “no” a hundred times to something that does not fit your condition. The Collector is a very powerful growth practice. You inevitably take care of yourself, the internal state changes. When you buy an unobvious name, you buy emotions that are consonant with you at some point in your life. Conditionally encapsulated happiness or sadness that you bring home.
Popov: However, it is worth figuring out how to check what you like. I suggest looking at the ratings. Prizes are also ratings, look at the list of nominees, not laureates. For example, “Kandinsky Prize” or “Innovation”. If you notice repeated names there, it means that you should get to know these artists better.
Kryukov: It’s not all that difficult really. You find the strongest institutional players: fairs, galleries. See who they work with. There are always curators and institutions around the artist. You study, find matching names from the last five years, and make your list. Subscribe to galleries and museums mailing lists, visit exhibitions, and in six months you will see enough of it so much that you will already be strongly involved in the process.
Popov: Today, many are passionate about digital art and NFTs. They seem to be available to everyone. For myself, I have not yet seen anything interesting in this area. Often this is a mountain of visual garbage, because the token sale system itself is universal and suitable for anything. Everything is for sale – and it is not clear how art is rebuilt. If someone wants to collect digital images, for God’s sake. Lots of hype, lots of opportunities. But I don’t fully understand why buying a digital copy of a painting from the Hermitage when you can open it in excellent quality on Google Arts & Culture.
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Kryukov: Maybe it would be more useful to become a patron of the Hermitage. I believe in digital art, in science art, but I don’t believe in NFT. This is a soap bubble, it swelled up and almost burst. What will digital art be like? We are still waiting for discoveries in this area, but as far as NFT is concerned, so far there is very little real art.
Popov: Before you deal with the virtual, you need to deal with the real world. With real art – especially if you still want to hang something on the wall.