Why does Moscow appeal to foreign artists?
Today, Moscow not only has large state museums, but also many private galleries that exhibit and sell paintings by contemporary artists. One of them is Askeri Gallery, which is located in the center of Moscow, on Povarskaya Street. Its owner, Polina Askeri-Belotserkovskaya, works with both Russian and foreign artists.
How did the first foreign artist end up in your gallery?
It was Romain Froquet from France, a wonderful and very talented person. I met him through my friend Richard, the owner of a well-established French company that makes frames for paintings. Picasso himself used to order frames from them. At some point Richard showed me some paintings by his artist friends, and one of them was the street artist Romain Froquet. He creates very beautiful geometric abstractions. Romain gladly agreed to come to Moscow. In 2017, we arranged his exhibition at Askeri Gallery and brought 12 works. The vernissage gathered a lot of brilliant and interesting guests, including representatives from the company Bosco di Ciliegi. They showed Froquet’s work to Mikhail Kusnirovich, and this was the beginning of a wonderful and unprecedented project for Russia appeared – Romain was entrusted with the interior design of Vesna department store on Novy Arbat.
Who was your next foreign artist?
There were several of them at once. First, Conor Mccreedy. Like Froquet, his work is abstract, but he only paints with a blue pigment that he has a patent for. His paintings mesmerized me in Georgia, during an exhibition of modern art in Tsinandali. My good friend Philippe Hoerle-Guggenheim, who has his own gallery in New York, brought Mccreedy’s works there. I really liked this painting and even took a photo with it, posted it on Instagram, and we got in touch there. Six months later, I met him in person and hosted Conor’s first exhibition in my gallery.
Then I started working with Anne de Carbuccia. She is a unique artist who splits her time between Paris and New York. Anne grew up in Corsica, where she fell in love with nature. After studying to be an art critic in New York, she started making art herself. She makes works that bring together old and new art. Anne is very concerned with environmental protection and promotes environmental awareness. Together with Vasili Tsereteli, we organized a big exhibition called “One Planet One Future” for Anne de Carbuccia at the ММОМА on Gogolevsky Boulevard in 2017. This was a unique multimedia project that took place within the scope of the Year of the Environment in Russia. Anne’s world, which showed natural sanctuaries around the planet, spoke to the audience in their own way. We brought real sand to the exhibition. People could take off their shoes to walk in it and feel one with nature, think about how beautiful it is and how harmful our impact on it can be. The exhibition was very popular, and stayed open for three months instead of one. People came for second and third visits, so I consider “One Planet One Future” a big success.
The next was Peter Opheim, an absolutely unique American artist with German-Russian roots. His great great grandfather was Russian. My sister Angelina, who is an interior designer, found Peter. At one point she sent me a link to a project by one of the most famous American interior designers, and it included Peter’s work. I contacted him on Instagram. He told me that he would be happy to meet if I am ever in New York. A few months after this, I was on a work trip to Los Angeles, and Opheim’s work was featured in one of the galleries. I realized that I had never seen anything like this before. Peter has an interesting approach. He first makes sculptures of made-up creatures out of polymer clay, and then paints large portraits of them. I came to meet with him in New York, and we agreed to have a solo exhibition for him at Askeri Gallery. Right now this is one of my favorite artists. His paintings seem childish on one hand, but in reality they are absolutely serious and mature – a unique combination that I really enjoy. I hung one of his paintings in my living room and am happy every time I come home and look at it.
Do you introduce Moscow to your foreign artists, show them around the city?
If this is the artist’s first time in Moscow, of course I do. We had a program for every artist. The art curators who work for me in Askeri Gallery showed them around the major attractions in Moscow, they went to museums together – the Multimedia Art Museum, Vasili Tsereteli’s МОММА, the Garage Museum, the Tretyakov Gallery, and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
And what are their impressions?
Very good. Unfortunately, television doesn’t give a good impression of our country: they say it’s dangerous in Russia, that something is always wrong here, that Russians are aggressive. But foreigners come to Moscow and see that people here are modern and friendly. They understand how well-organized things are here, how the city is convenient and beautiful, how there are great restaurants, and most importantly how unique and rich our culture is. Artists like it here so much that they always want to come back. I’ve already done three Froquet exhibitions in Russia, two for Anne de Carbuccia, and two for Peter Opheim. “We’ll agree to do special projects too, invite us more often,” the artists say. Peter liked it here so much that he is thinking about opening his own studio in Moscow.
Polina, who is up next?
A Korean artist, Kwang Young Chun. Askeri Gallery brought his work to Russia for the first time in May 2019, for the art fair DA! MOSCOW. We successfully sold it there. Then we showed a second work from this artist at the Cosmoscow exhibition in September and got a lot of raving reviews. Prior to this, I worked with artists whose price range is $20,000 per painting. For Kwang Yong Chun, the price range is over $100,000. This is a high bar for me. Right now, we are talking with one of the leading state museums about a solo Kwang Young Chun exhibition in Russia in February 2021, which he will attend personally. For now, I can’t disclose all the details. But before this happens, I would like to bring him for an exhibition at Askeri Gallery.
How well are works by foreign artists selling?
Right now, art is not being purchased in the same volumes it was ten years ago. It’s not a necessity. People like to buy foreign artists more. They are more well-known internationally. All of “my” artists have exhibitions all over the world. Although I sell works by Russian artists well too, like Pavel Polyansky’s work. My clients really like them.
Which artists are harder to work with? Our artists?
It depends on the person. Every creative person has a mind of their own. But I can say that foreign artists are more put together and responsible. If I ask for 13 paintings for an exhibition, they will paint 15 so that I have options to choose from. And in advance. But Russian artists, unfortunately, wait until the last minute. “I work a lot, I’m tired, this is difficult,” they say. Once, I had to showcase two old paintings at an exhibition opening because I wasn’t happy with the new ones. I may look like an angel, but I’m very strict (laughs). I always demand that artists do their best, and I won’t offer works I’m not happy with to my clients. It’s best to do something well once than poorly several times.