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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Something for Everyone in Local Art Galleries

MTAn art expert showing socialist realist posters to a customer at the NB Gallery, which also sells realist and impressionist paintings.
Russian art has been a well-kept secret for too long, local art dealers say.

The city's many established galleries say few Russians or expatriates understand the many genres of Russian art.

"We help them to make choices," said Nina Osadchaya, director of the Zamoskvorechye art gallery. "Many people have no education in art. They buy kitsch, perhaps one of 1,000 copies of an original painting, but they are not aware of this."

The 12-year-old Zamoskvorechye gallery, which specializes in socialist realism, is one of the rare galleries to receive government support, as most are entirely commercial enterprises. Vitally Manin, former director of the New Tretyakov Gallery, has been Zamoskvorechye's consultant since its founding.

Anna Barroin, PR manager of RusArta, which specializes in contemporary Russian and underground Soviet art, said some of RusArta's artists were forced to paint secretly during Soviet times, and even now are afraid to exhibit their paintings.

"Ninety-five percent of our clients are foreign," she said. "They can understand contemporary art," she said. "Russians still like socialist realism. Contemporary art makes you think, and foreigners are more educated about it. Americans, for example, are very educated. We were brought up on socialist realism. Educated Russians are starting to like new art."

However, Ana Olevskaya, director of Gallery NR 50, which has been open for just one year and specializes in Soviet art -- including landscapes, still life and political art -- said foreigners are also interested in socialist realism. "They enjoy finding something that has roots and ideas," Olevskaya said.

"Wealthy Russians prefer big paintings, more abstract with different colors. They have big houses, and they prefer modern art -- which is sometimes just decoration," she said.

Anna Pulina, art expert for the M'ARS Gallery, said most buyers are now Russian, although a few years ago it was the reverse. The M'ARS Gallery became the city's first private gallery when it opened 14 years ago.

"I think that Russian and expat tastes are different," Pulina said. "Foreigners, for example, like graphic art, and Russians like more traditional paintings. I think it is maybe something in the Russian spirit to like landscapes or seascapes.

"However, there is a new tendency for Russians to be interested in abstract art, because in new houses and offices, modern works look better," she said.

Barroin said Russians are investing more in art as their standard of living improves after the financial crisis.

"With a new house, they will want to put in new art," Barroin said. "However, Russians don't spend much time at home; they meet in bars or restaurants, so they prefer status symbols that people can see. When your painting is at home no one can see it, unlike your Mercedes, which everyone can see. It's the New Russian way. But maybe soon they will think, 'I have the material things, and now I want something for my soul.'"

The NB Gallery, which will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary, sells Russian realist and impressionist paintings. Owner Natalia Bykova said the gallery does a lot of legwork to find art it considers "genuine and sincere."

The gallery avoids selling state-approved art with political themes, finding instead "painters who painted for themselves," Bykova said. "Russians are not so interested in political works -- they know them too well already." But expats are interested, because socialist realism opens a new world to them, she said.

Most galleries offer 20th-century paintings, which can be shipped abroad -- the basic customs rule is that anything less than 100 years old is not considered an antique.

However, Osadchaya said there is sometimes confusion over regulations regarding works more than 50 years old. "Sometimes the Culture Ministry will say that a piece is important, and they want it for a museum, but perhaps for a fee, you can take it out of the country," she said.

"There is nothing that we are forbidden to export," she said. "Although, for example, one client wanted to export a 1955 painting and the Culture Ministry decided that the painting was too significant, so permission was denied."

In any case, many galleries will help obtain the paperwork to export artwork and some will send it for you.

Barroin said Russian art is not well known abroad. But the art dealers say this is changing.

Svetlana Shaashoua, gallery director of RusArta, said that 10 years ago there was a boom in Russian art, but now "artists need to be great and original, and prices are very competitive. One artist sold for $11,000 10 years ago, and he now sells for $2,500 to $3,000."

Gallery NR 50, 15A Staraya Basmannaya Ulitsa, Tel. 147-9252
M'ARS Gallery, 32 Malaya Filyovskaya Ulitsa, Tel. 146-2029
NB Gallery, 6/2 Pereulok Sivtsev Vrazhek, Tel. 203-4006
RusArta, 38/1 Frunzenskaya Naberezhnaya, Tel. 915-7872, 915-8033
Zamoskvorechye, 24/2 Serpukhovsky Val, Tel. 954-3009