"Russkoye Iskusstvo" No. 2, 2012
There’s no point in collecting works of art if you don’t show them to people
An exhibition of works by Nicolay Fechin drawn from museums and private collections opened at the State Tretyakov Gallery in May 2012. The exhibition was organised with the support of the businessman and collector Andrey Filatov. The magazine asked the collector to reply to a few questions connected with the subject of collecting. A.V. Filatov spoke to Inna Pulikova.
Inna Pulikova. Andrey Vasilyevich, please tell us how and when your collection began to be formed.
Andrey Filatov. In 2008, after the first flotation of shares in the Globaltrans group on the London stock exchange (A. Filatov is a shareholder in the rail operator Globaltrans RI), I had the money to fulfil a dream to collect works of art. The “motor” who spurred me on to acquire works for the future collection was my wife. It was thanks to her that I discovered an artist such as Nicolay Fechin for myself. My first purchase was “Portrait of the Engraver W.G. Watt”, for which the artist received the Thomas R. Proctor prize for portraiture in 1924 at the exhibition of the National Academy of Design in the USA. In 1924 the work was immediately bought for a private collection and it has virtually never been seen in public until recently. Now it can be seen in the exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery.
I.P. Which artists feature in your collection?
A.F. We have a rule in our family: we only buy things that we both like my wife and I. We buy things that touch us, that are emotionally close, that tug at the heartstrings. We were all born in the USSR, and that was a great era that has influenced all of us. There was a desire to understand what people felt in those days, and so we started to acquire 20th-century works of Russian art. I buy not only paintings but also drawings and sculpture. I like many artists. If I had to name names, I would say Grabar, Konchalovsky, Korovin, Samokhvalov, Korzhev, Popkov, Arkhipov, Plastov, Kugach, Grigoryev, and Fechin himself. I believe I have collected the best works from his American period, seven masterpieces. My collection includes Laktionov’s work “Letter from the Front”. It’s a copy by the artist himself. The first “Letter from the Front” rapidly became surprisingly popular, and then Stalin summoned the artist and said that the work should travel the world. It was therefore copied by the artist.
I.P. When it’s a matter of a collector acquiring a work of art, how important do you think the opinion of a curator or consultant is?
A.F. A huge number of people around me criticised me for buying Viktor Popkov and Gely Korzhev. But I believe there were no artists with greater genius in Soviet history. There are other remarkable masters, but it makes sense to single out these two in particular.
I.P. What routes does the creation of a collection usually take: individual purchases or the acquisition of whole collections?
A.F. As a rule, it’s acquiring individual items, except the works of Popkov. I have bought his works and continue to do so, both individually and as collections. My Popkov collection is one of the best in the world.
I.P. Which items in your collection do you personally like best of all?
A.F. I like all the works I’ve bought they have passed through my heart. But there are also some that are not simply dear to me but are also a homage to my country, which doesn’t exist any more the Soviet Union. For example, I bought the plaster cast for the model of Vera Mukhina’s sculpture “The Worker and the Collective Farm Woman”, which served as the study for the monument which crowned the Soviet pavilion at an exhibition in Paris in 1937. I cannot omit to mention Fechin’s sculptural composition “The Homeless Girl”. I also have some works by unknown artists which I like more than some works by famous masters.
I.P. As a rule, if you want to build a collection, you have to involve experts…
A.F. I have one rule: I send any work that I acquire for expert assessment by a major London company that has developed tests to check the authenticity of the chemical composition of the paint. Many vendors who are offering me some works and know my position refer to this expert opinion first themselves, and then, when the checks have been done, they admit that these works won’t suit me.
I.P. How much interest is there among collectors in works of art of the period that you collect?
A.F. Judging by how hard I have to fight for some purchases, I can say that the biggest interest in 20th-century Russian and Soviet art comes from Chinese foundations. Today they are the number one purchasers in the world.
I.P. There is a view that collectors prefer to buy the art of their own country…
A.F. No. The Chinese economy is displaying dynamic growth; museums are being created in the major cities in China, and many municipalities are allocating funds to acquire paintings.
The development of cultural life is a criterion of the development of the country.
I.P. You mean China’s active involvement in the market for 20th-century Soviet art is a systematic activity by the state, and not individual actions by private collectors?
A.F. Yes, it’s activity by the state, especially by municipal authorities. They are acting via three or four major art foundations, with which they place their orders. The Chinese buy everything Soviet (not the avant-garde and not the Silver Age). I imagine that our Soviet art is ideologically close to Chinese buyers. Many Soviet artists who were members of the Academy were teachers of Chinese artists Mylnikov, for example. Accordingly, his works are now worth crazy money in China, as are the works of pupils of his who have become famous. The second factor in the demand for Soviet-era art is the domestic Russian market. The third factor is the world market.
I.P. What is your experience of cooperation with museum institutions?
A.F. The series of works by Fechin from my collection for the exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery is my first experience. So far my impressions of cooperation with the Tretyakov Gallery are its constructiveness and competence. I say thank you to the gallery for paying attention to a modest collector.
I.P. How can museums and collectors be useful to each other?
A.F. Without collectors there would be no museums. Private collections form the foundation of all our museums’ collections Russian ones, Soviet ones, the Tretyakov, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hermitage. This is the foundation of museum collections. And from my point of view there is a certain injustice with regard to collectors. It would be right to create a museum of great collectors and of the collections which they made, and to name it in their honour, after Shchukin, Morozov and all the others. And of course we need a museum of modern private collections where people would be able to exhibit their collections. A private collection will only be relevant if the collector has the opportunity to show his collection to people.
I.P. Do you think Russian collectors want to show their collections, or will collecting behind closed doors, just for themselves, predominate?
A.F. It’s difficult for me to speak for other people, so I’ll speak for myself. I believe there’s no point in collecting works of art if you don’t then show them to people. This is what evolution is all about: to start with you’re just a collector, and the next rational step is a museum. If you’ve been able to “grow” to the scale of a museum, you’ve done well. But if your art collection is a business, you’re not a collector. You invest capital, you sell, you make money. But if you’re a real collector, in time you need to create a museum.
I.P. Some of the private museums that I know of have made entry free, believing that selling tickets won’t bring in real income and won’t cover the costs of creating a museum…
A.F. I believe that is not correct entry can be made free for students and children. The price of a ticket can be nominal, but it will be like a mark of respect for the museum. These funds can be used to promote art and publish books.
I.P. Are you not planning to show your entire collection to the public?
A.F. So far I haven’t thought about that. My collection is still very young; time will tell in what area it will develop further.
I.P. In May 2012 a monograph devoted to Viktor Popkov was published with your support. Why did you decide to get involved in this project?
A.F. Firstly, this year Viktor Popkov would have been 80 years old. Secondly, I was surprised that his art is not well known. The specialists know it, but he is unknown to the general public. Perhaps with my help people will get to know him better. Petr Kozorezenko, who wrote the study, has worked hard and studied both the works themselves and documentary materials. If it were not for this author and all the people who worked on the project, nothing would have happened.
I.P. Which other artists, in your view, would it be worth publishing a book about, possibly rediscovering a master?
A.F Korzhev. I would also elevate Soviet Impressionism. I would do a book about Plastov. In terms of modern artists, I would do one about Abakumov. I believe we are still living behind an iron curtain, and Soviet art is still unknown to the world. It would be correct if museums of Soviet art appeared in other countries when people get to know a country’s culture, their attitude to it changes.
I.P. Is it possible, in your view, to achieve this by the efforts of private collectors?
A.F. It would be strange if the state financed the opening of any museums in other countries. First we need to bring order within the country, and only then do projects in other countries. So if something is going to happen in this area, it will only be by the efforts of private collectors.
I.P. What forms of public activity by collectors are possible at present?
A.F. The main thing is to change the environment around you. Thanks to these changes the world will change, and so will attitudes in society. The forms of activity can be very varied we need to show, and publish, and talk.
I.P. Which contemporary Russian collectors do you think are playing an active role in the cultural life of the country?
A.F. I would say Vladimir Ilyich Nekrasov and Petr Olegovich Aven. It seems to me that they are doing a lot for Russian culture.
I.P. In your view, which collection of Soviet Realism are the most significant in Russia?
A.F. There are quite a lot of them, but I single out the collection of the Ananyev brothers, who have opened a museum in Moscow (The Institute of Russian Realist Art RI).
I.P. Is there any way to compare the collectors of different eras pre-Revolutionary, Soviet, our own time?
A.F. They have one feature in common they love the whole Motherland. And they collect that which they love. Those who buy foreign art and who bring it into the country, as Yusupov and Shchukin once did, are on a mission of enlightenment. From my point of view, collectors have not changed much since those days. The collectors of the past and those of the present have much in common. I think that in time, when the generations change and when the first generation, which created the capital, is replaced by a new generation of more educated people, there will also be significant changes in the perception of art. The next generation will move from accumulation to culture, in other words to fundamental values. Today, many of our major entrepreneurs don’t care what is hanging on the walls in their home or office. They simply don’t have time to think about it. The pressure they experience at work means their emotions are burnt out (a few have been lucky and have miraculously preserved their ability to appreciate art). But as soon as a new generation is brought up (the “transition” will take 15-20 years) we shall see a new view of our art and a different demand for collecting.
I.P. How can the state support collectors?
A.F. The state can create an environment in which it is possible to show collections. We need exhibition halls and galleries. Suppose a municipal authority created a museum of private collections, where exhibitions could be held regularly. This would be right and would enable everyone to see and become familiar with private collections. It would not be a bad thing to support contemporary artists. Suppose we could create a tradition where every year the ten best works by young artists, as judged by experts, were exhibited in the Kremlin, and people who met the country’s leadership would see these works. Years later these artists might become the pride of the nation and classics of Russian art.
I.P. Which contemporary artists interest you?
A.F. I could name Yuri Krotov, who has a remarkable talent. I would say that his art stands at the intersection between the art traditions of Serov and Korovin. The feeling that he is capable of conveying through his works seems to me to be unique.
I.P. Not so long ago part of Viktor Nekrasov’s collection could be seen in the Arbat Prestige chain of shops that he owns. Since criminal proceedings were brought against Nekrasov and the shops were closed, the collection has disappeared from the general public’s view. To what extent are private collections today protected from aggressive outside influence, if one can put it like that?
A.F. This is not a question of protecting collections but a question of protecting private property in Russia. From my point of view, everything is changing for the better in this area in Russia: the court system, the attitude to investors and to private property. It is in Russia’s interests to change the country’s image and to get investment flowing into the country. Judging by the recent presidential election, when such a significant number of votes were cast in favour of private enterprise, changes are taking place in society. The attitude to entrepreneurs is changing, and with it the attitude to private property.
I.P. If we regard a collection as private property, as an asset, do structures exist in Russia today which provide services for managing a collection as an asset?
A.F. Not yet, but the situation will gradually change. As the market develops, modern tools will emerge which will help people to operate collections. Today, for example, it’s easy to get loans “for Impressionists” throughout the world.
I.P. How interesting and important would it be for collectors, in your view, to get together in some sort of clubs or societies, or do collectors prefer an “autonomous” existence?
A.F. I would put it differently: how interested are people who collect in public life? It seems to me it is important for any citizen, and even more so now, when we can observe social activity emerging in various spheres at the same time. This is a natural process which depends on the development of public life in the country.
I.P. What would you wish yourself as a collector?