Young artists boldly announce themselves and put forward significant prices for their works

Republican Art Gallery gathers full houses at opening of Autumn Salon exhibition — featuring a wide panorama of modern Belarusian artists’ work
Republican Art Gallery (in Minsk’s Kozlov Street) gathers full houses at opening of Autumn Salon exhibition — featuring a wide panorama of modern Belarusian artists’ work

The press release for the show read: ‘The Autumn Salon with Belgazprombank will demonstrate the best pieces created by young early 21st century Belarusian artists. Unique within the Republic’s cultural life, the project is part of a major bank initiative called Art-Belarus — aimed at reconstructing the integral and continuous process of Belarusian culture development.’

Previous art projects by Belgazprombank have demonstrated Belarus’ rich artistic heritage, while this Autumn Salon aims to reveal its modern potential. With this in mind, it unites the best young Belarusian artists, who have passed a selective round and are now contenders for Belgazprombank’s Art-Belarus Award.

Works on show at the Palace of Arts have been created over the past three years and represent various art trends: pictorial and graphic painting, glass sculpture, photography and installations. According to the organisers, these represent the best examples of early 21st century young Belarusian art.

The show attempts to recreate the atmosphere of Parisian autumn salons of the early 20th century (known for their liberality and novelty). The event includes works by experienced masters, acting members of the Belarusian Union of Artists, students of the Academy of Arts and talented amateur painters without formal education: followers of classical traditions and alternative styles. Many have completed foreign internships and have been recipients of the Special Fund of the President of Belarus for the Support of Talented Youth. Some contestants are also from famous Belarusian artistic families.

The prize fund of 25,000 Euros aims to help the best artists develop future projects and take up artistic internships. The jury includes acknowledged experts in the field of modern art, recognised at international level: Aesa Sigurjónsdóttir (an independent curator, Reykjavik and Paris), Gaspare Manos (an artist, a curator, and founder of Venice’s Gaspare Foundation), Dieter Roelstraete (a member of the curator team from Kassel, Germany), and Teresa Iarocci Mavica (Director of the Leonid Mikhelson’s Victoria — the Art of Being Contemporaty (V-A-C) Foundation, Moscow). Visitors to the show also cast a vote, and on-line voting is available (on the site), for the audience’s award.

Evidently, the Autumn Salon with Belgazprombank aims to represent Belarus within the modern global art industry, including asking artists to place a ‘value’ on their works, offering them for sale.

The Autumn Salon also features a rich educational programme of lectures, round table discussions and children’s clubs, aiming to revive public dialogue with the diverse artistic world. The atmosphere on the opening night was buzzing. By around 5pm, exhibition halls were crowded with art lovers, young artists and supporters, with people bringing their families.

Some may have been attracted by the names of our famous countrymen, representing the legendary Parisian school: Chagall, Soutine, Zak, Stelletsky, Khentova, Lubitch and Kikoine. Belgazprombank’s corporate collection, also on show, aims to indicate the succession of generations and to show the deep historical roots of Belarusian art. Soutine’s Eva is the pearl of the collection, covered with glass and guarded by a policeman (no surprise, as it was purchased for $1.8m).

Ninety artists, aged between 18 and 40 years, are taking part in the show, including recognised masters and former students, across various genres and styles. The exhibition presents the rich layers of modern Belarusian art, and features paintings with price tags ranging from around $2,000 to $6,000, and at least $8,000 for a sculpture. Photos and graphic works tend to cost less. Principles of pricing are always complex, but are primarily related to size, since larger works take longer to complete and require more ‘resources’.

Alesya Skorobogataya has set a record for her Day and Night diptych, which is priced at Br528m — or $30,000. Vasily Zenko, whose grand quadriptych Final Destination, is priced at around $10,000, tells us that the price reflects the large size, and much time and effort involved, while Anna Silivonchik is showcasing three pictures at $5,000. She explains, “The exhibition does not revolve, primarily, around sales. My works on show are large. I’ve never exhibited them and have little desire to sell them. I’ve set a price high enough that I wouldn’t regret parting with them. However, in truth, I’m not yet ready to sell my pictures.”

Oleg Kostyuchenko — who painted Van Gogh’s Pipe (over $5,000) — notes, “A picture’s price is based on ordinary things: the price of paint and canvas, the under frame, and workshop rent. Initially, I sold my paintings for $1,500 each but, as I received more orders, I raised my prices. After reaching a certain sum, it’s impossible to sell for less. Moreover, I don’t draw portraits. I sell my ideas and ideas are always expensive.”

Yaroslav Filippovich, who created the most expensive sculpture in the show ($20,000 for Breeze) explains, “Sculpting is much more expensive than pictorial art and requires me to employ others: to create the carcass and mould. Rubber costs $26 per kilo and I need around 50kg for a sculpture. I would love to cast in bronze but lack the necessary finances. Price reflects not only the cost of resources but payment to the artist. The usual formula is to price an item at four times the cost of resources but this isn’t workable in our country, where we tend to be happy to receive double the cost of resources for any single piece.”

Truly, the prices are higher than we’d usually expect, and unaffordable to most of the Belarusian public, but, no doubt, they reflect their ‘worth’.

The Chairman of Belgazprombank’s Board, Victor Babariko, who initiated the Autumn Salon, hopes to rouse public interest in national culture, and in fine arts especially. He comments, “As part of Belgazprombank’s artistic collection, we’ve returned the most significant works by Belarusian artists to their homeland. We hope this has contributed to enhanced interest in Belarus’ art history, which dates back several hundred years. In my view, our Autumn Salon is a logical continuation of this cultural concept. We want to show the art being created in Belarus today, presenting domestic masters’ achievements from the early 20th and 21st centuries.”

He continues, “We announced a contest, with over 800 works received, from around 300 artists, photographers and sculptors. In the first of two selective rounds, Belarusian experts were attracted, choosing works by 90 artists. Gallery workers and art specialists on the European and American art markets will take part in the second stage, and we hope they’ll be objective. We often hear that talented people live in our country so we’d like to see who they are and what they’re doing. We need to define modern Belarusian art, showing who deserves to be appreciated and recognised. We don’t live in a vacuum without talent.”

By Veniamin Mikheev
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