Repression, says Reuters. That’s the simple answer given by some of the pioneers of Russia’s Contemporary art market to the question why a recession-plagued West has a vibrant art market and a commodity-rich country like Russia cannot support its own. Russia’s political climate has caused 1.25m persons to emigrate. Many of those are the wealthiest and continue to collect art but in London and they buy Western, not Russian, artists’ work:
“These collectors who left en masse, they are people who saw that not only is there a suffocating situation but that it will continue for a minimum of six years,” gallery owner Marat Gelman said, referring to Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a third term. “They are not seeing their future in Russia.”
Gelman was at the forefront of a movement to pioneer Moscow’s first contemporary galleries in the 1990s, setting up his Gelman gallery alongside the Aidan and XL galleries to cater to the rich and famous seeking trophies of their wealth.
But those trailblazers now say their regulars have largely left Russia, leaving their luxury market in the hands of rich bureaucrats, who neither want to draw attention to their wealth or spend on art that is often critical of the Kremlin.
“When the richest people are bureaucrats – deputy ministers, the children of governors, the wives of mayors – then these people are ashamed of their wealth,” Gelman said. “They would rather buy some expensive yacht far from everyone.”