Marat Guelman

Marat Guelman: When the Last Become First 2

Interviewed by Anna Iltnere

Marat Guelman (1960) is a name that needs no introduction in Russia's art world, nor even beyond its borders. An art historian, gallery owner, collector and political analyst, he also used to work at Russia's TV 1, Channel OPT – from 2002-2004 he was assistant to the channel's general director and head of the analytical department. In 1990, Guelman established one of the first private art galleries in Russia, exactly one year before the fall of the USSR. The gallery is still actively working and participated at the art fair, ART MOSCOW 2011. Guelman's name was also among those heard at the 4th Moscow Contemporary Art Biennial: in a satellite program of the biennial, he curated the exhibition, “Art vs. Geography”, featuring works from Russia's regional artists. Finding interesting and, as yet, unknown and regional artists and then making them famous is Guelman's trademark. Dmitry Gutov, Oleg Kulik, Valery Koshlyakov, AES Group, Aleksander Vinogradov and Vladimir Dubosarsky are just some of the artists whose first solo shows were held at Marat Guelman's gallery.

How did you come to the decision, more than 20 years ago, to move to Moscow and soon after, to establish one of the first private galleries in post-soviet Russia? Did you foresee that this would be a successful plan?

I moved to Moscow because I was too trusting of other people. At the beginning, it did seem as if I had made a huge mistake. In 1987, in Kishinev, where I lived at the time, I organized an exhibition for a Moscow artist. It was successful because Kishinev is a boring place and, all of a sudden, we're the center of attention, the press is interested, and pieces of art are being bought. Accordingly, the said artist becomes inspired and tells me to come to Moscow – I can work as his producer. Those were soviet times, and he was the president of the USSR Artists' Union. I was also captivated by art, so I accepted and moved from Kishinev to Moscow. But in a month's time, my artist unexpectedly left for the USA. I was all alone in Moscow; I didn't know anybody at that time. And I couldn't go back to Kishinev, because all of my friends had viewed my moving away quite sceptically. Going back would be demeaning. So I slowly started a small business and with the profits, I started collecting art. After three years, I opened a gallery. During the first years of my collecting, I made a bunch of unprofessional mistakes. That's why I had to sell the first collection, only keeping two pieces as a “remembrance” of my bad luck. When I decided to sell the collection, my goal wasn't to become an art dealer. I just wanted to get rid of the collection. But it's not easy selling art, and the year I spent trying to get rid of the unwanted pieces brought me direct experience and contacts, even in Europe. Since there was no one else in Moscow at the time who had experience in art trading and art management, soon enough, I became “the best”, “the oldest” and who knows what else (laughs).