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Dr. Simona Makselienė

Detective of the Art Market 0

Interview by Anna Iltnere

Dr. Simona Makselienė is an art critic and founder and director of the auction house Art Market Agency, in Vilnius. At the art fair ARTVILNIUS’11, Makselienė not only participated with a stand at the pavilion, she also gave a lecture entitled The Pulse of the Secondary Art Market. With the zeal of a detective, Makselienė laid out the prices of artworks from the world’s top auction houses, as well as their sudden fluctuations in the secondary art market, illuminating logical connections and sketching the overall context.

During a single lecture, the art historian fed her listeners’ minds with such a rich description of masterpieces from the world art market, head-spinning auction results, and the personalities of world-famous collectors, that I’m sure every other person in attendance spent the evening virtually leafing through the archives of international auctions as if they were breathtaking literature. had the chance to meet with Dr. Simona Makselienė in Vilnius and ask her about the art market in Lithuania and further afield.

How did you get the idea to open an auction house, when at that time — in 2007 — there was nothing like that in Lithuania?

It was an open niche. The idea had matured for several years. When I studied at the Art Academy, my instructors often mentioned that Lithuania lacked a professional auction house, and that there was a need for one. Every civilized art market needs its own art fair, its own national gallery, and its own auction house. Back then there wasn’t any of that. Yet the situation has changed. Now there is an auction house, an art fair—ARTVILNIUS, established in 2009—and the Vilnius National Art Gallery, which was opened that same year. But the art market in Lithuania, compared with that in other countries, is still very young.

What has changed in the four years since you opened your auction house?

Our operational concept has changed. At the first auction—on September 14, 2007—we placed an emphasis on contemporary art. But we quickly realized that this move was too swift, that we should move forward gradually, step by step. Contemporary art isn’t one of the most purchased segments of the art market. Right now we mostly work with art from the inter-war period. I must admit—I was really surprised how much artists from that period are currently in demand. But let’s keep contemporary art in mind. I think that the demand for it is just a matter of time.

Is the fact that collectors avoid purchasing contemporary art, and most of them only recognize painting as a format—is this related to a lack of knowledge and experience? Or could this change over time? 

Yes, collectors in Lithuania give preference to paintings, and precisely to oil painting. Even drawings—which tend to be more available in terms of price, and which certainly don’t lag behind works on canvas in terms of quality—even drawings aren’t particularly popular. I think that over time this will definitely change, because I’ve already noticed an improvement in the situation. People have begun to travel more; they see more; they visit art biennales, international fairs; their point of view broadens, which is an important factor in changing our understanding.

Yet another problem has appeared. The best representatives of Lithuanian contemporary art have moved abroad—to the U.S., to France, and elsewhere, where they work and establish their careers. Artists are emigrating, and their works earn a completely different price abroad, which is too high for the Lithuanian market. 

Does the Lithuanian art market differ from the Latvian and Estonian markets? Or vis-à-vis the global scene are all of the Baltic states are on the same level? At yesterday’s lecture you mentioned that the Lithuanian art market is like a unique reservoir. 

Essentially, the art market works according to the same rules everywhere. Yet all three of the Baltic states have a characteristic feature: collectors with a narrow sphere of interests. They are only interested in artists who are connected to a specific place. Lithuanian collectors look for Lithuanian artists, Latvian collectors for Latvians, and Estonians for Estonians. It’s like they are locked into the national art scene. In other countries the world seems more open and also smaller, because it’s nothing unusual to purchase, say, works by Chinese artists.