Art of selling masterpieces

[b]Belarusian art market working for domestic and foreign customers[/b]Walking through the halls of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, I notice plenty of masterpieces by Belarus-born masters, including Marc Chagall and Ivan Khrutsky. However, the world’s largest museum doesn’t mention that these prominent painters hailed from Belarus. Of course, this fact isn’t important to the museum. We can be born anywhere; it’s the country which recognises our talent and gives us the opportunity for self-realisation that claims us.Chaпm Soutine, born 100 years ago near Minsk, soon left for Paris while Minsker Boris Zaborov moved to the banks of the Seine in the 1980s.
Belarusian art market working for domestic and foreign customers

Walking through the halls of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, I notice plenty of masterpieces by Belarus-born masters, including Marc Chagall and Ivan Khrutsky. However, the world’s largest museum doesn’t mention that these prominent painters hailed from Belarus. Of course, this fact isn’t important to the museum. We can be born anywhere; it’s the country which recognises our talent and gives us the opportunity for self-realisation that claims us.
Chaпm Soutine, born 100 years ago near Minsk, soon left for Paris while Minsker Boris Zaborov moved to the banks of the Seine in the 1980s. Both are now claimed by history as French painters. Today, many Belarusian masters stay in their homeland, yet those wishing to buy their artworks have to travel to Berlin or Warsaw. This is because Belarus’ art market is in its infancy. Artists fetch greater prices for their works abroad. However, new private and state art galleries and salons open in Belarus each year; meanwhile, more local people are ready to invest in these artworks. Gradually, we are realising that artworks offer spiritual and material nourishment.

Tastes differ
Six months ago, a new gallery opened in Minsk, occupying a unique venue — a former glass-bottle buy-back centre. To stress its orientation towards contemporary Belarusian art, it was named ‘Ў’ — to honour the unique letter of the Belarusian alphabet. Since the letter is unusual, everything hosted by the Ў Gallery is also extraordinary.
Outside the gallery, guests are welcomed by brightly coloured, upside-down film posters and an old Zaporozhets car (the smallest and cheapest car of the former USSR). They’re invited to post suggestions regarding the gallery’s future into the car. At present, the Ў isn’t a profitable enterprise; it relies on sponsorship to keep its doors open. However, it’s already a centre of Minsk bohemianism.
“In addition to artistic shows, the Ў Gallery hosts literature presentations and creative workshops, as well as artistic evenings, seminars and lectures,” explains Yekaterina Shaternik proudly, who directs the venue. “We have a cafй and a book store, where we invite visitors to buy or just read anything they fancy.” The Ў Gallery isn’t the most prestigious but is different in showing unusual, experimental works. It caters for a range of tastes and only time will tell which will prove popular.
Of course, plenty of galleries exist in Minsk and in our regional cities. The Modern Fine Arts Museum alone regularly hosts exhibitions of new and acknowledged artists. Is this not sufficient for the showcasing of up-and-coming painters and for those keen on high art?
“These venues need design improvements,” notes Ruslan Vashkevich, a ‘new wave’ artist. “Museum and galleries are complex, self-funding enterprises.”
The Museum of Modern Fine Arts does organise exhibitions; however, and it’s not easy to obtain a place, since the selection process is very strict. The artistic council views candidates with considerable bias.

Road towards fame
Those wishing to see artworks by very famous masters should visit the Art Gallery in Nezavisimosti Avenue. The gallery prefers to work only with members of the Artists’ Union and rarely makes exceptions. It simply doesn’t have enough room to showcase everyone who’d like to see their works on display. At present, the Union of Artists unites 1,200 members. Artists need to hold five national exhibitions to join.
Sergey Timokhov, Deputy Chairman of the Union of Artists’ Organisation of Exhibitions, understands the problem but believes we shouldn’t exaggerate the situation. “The art market in Belarus is still young and ‘narrow’. However, we’ve long sold works abroad. There are many Belarusian painters whose works are popular in the West. It would be unwise not to make use of this opportunity. I won’t tell names but around 30 percent of our members sell their pieces abroad. Other artists, who aren’t our members, also aim to reach potential foreign customers. It’s very easy now, thanks to the Internet. Meanwhile, many painters go to Berlin or Warsaw, taking photos of their works to local galleries. If salon owners are interested, they’ll take 2-3 pieces ‘on approval’. If these sell quickly, permanent co-operation is offered. Naturally, this can result in ‘masterpieces’ being lost abroad, since they remain there. It sometimes happens that every work by a talented painter will leave the homeland. Think of Boris Zaborov, who emigrated to Paris in Soviet times. He recently donated a single sketch to the National Art Museum, which caused furore. When Belarusians start buying these works themselves, we’ll be able to say we have an established art market,” asserts Mr. Timokhov.

For those who can’t afford Van Gogh
Minsky Vernisazh Trade Fair, located in Oktyabrskaya Street in the centre of Minsk, is another alternative to art galleries. Here, artists earn their daily bread, drawing what is popular and what sells well. In the West, it’s forbidden to copy masterpieces for sale; however, our Minsk masters are happy to copy even Leonardo da Vinci. “I copy reproductions from albums,” one tells us. “I can fulfil any order. People want works by prominent artists at home but not everyone can afford a Van Gogh!” Another artist, called Zhanna, explains, “I have a Sotheby’s catalogue, from which I copy many outstanding pictures.” She’s selling works depicting views of Venice, Paris and street carnivals. She makes her own frames and is ready to offer discounts.
Foreigners visiting Minsky Vernisazh tend to appreciate classical Belarusian paintings by Tolstik, Savich, Kishchenko, Litvinova, Shchemelev, Savitsky and Alshevsky. Maybe, years from now, works by these authors will fetch prices akin to those commanded by Chagall. Most haven’t left for the West, but remain in Belarus, found in many private collections. They could be the backbone of our market for contemporary and classical art.

By Viktar Korbut
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