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Closing of the Three Whales Era 0

What do Moscow journalists and art-critics write about when it comes to closing of three of the most popular modern art galleries in the capital city? Our correspondent Anna Arutionova from Moscow tried to sum up different positions and opinions.

Anna Arutiunova 

Galleries of Marat Guelman (M&J Guelman), Aidan Salakhova (Aidan) and Elena Selina (XL) for 20 years were acting as three whales, carrying probably not the most intense but rapidly developing modern art-market of Moscow on their backs. These three very different galleries with different tasks, aims and means, were sort of a barometer of modern art commercial success in Russia. They were well renowned in the West, participated in international art-fairs, and none of their steps in the inner space of Russian art-scene never went unnoticed.

There is no secret that Russian modern art-market is not all roses, but this sudden turn still came as surprise. All three galleries simultaneously announced that their formal concept is no longer acceptable. The panic reaction of the society is understood: if three Founding Fathers proclaim their closing, the entire local art-market may seem to come to an end. Although this synchronized step definitely bespeaks problems, so far consequences of it are impossible to predict. Each of the ex-gallery owners pursues his own aims, and each will face his own effect of reconception.  

Gallery owner and Kulturtrager Marat Guelman. Photo: 

Olga Kabanova of Vedomosti («Ведомости») newspaper writes that closing of these three galleries in fact can’t be considered as news, because all three gallery owners recently have been multitasking in the art field. Aidan Salakhova, for instance, is quite successful artist; Marat Guelman shows interest towards regional art-centers, and Elena Selina has been speaking about the professional burnout phenomena for quite a while. (More details about further plans of Guelman, Selina and Salakhova are available in the article of Diana Machiulina for

In her explicate announce published at, Selina points out specific features of gallery business in Russia: when in 1990s everything had just taken off, with museums and funds missing, gallery was seen as an independent exhibition space, providing chance for some artistic experiments. This kind of game, highly intellectual as well as risky in the commercial perspective, can only be afforded by very successful galleries, who don’t have to conquer new purchasers and even less have to assert themselves. Conclusions made by Elena Selina are not encouraging: for past 20 years Russian art-market as it presents itself has not naturalized in the West, thus, concept of classic commercial gallery with no external financial support, has become outdated. By the way, Elena Selina is only one of three gallery owners who doesn’t plan to close her gallery: sales will go on, however there will be a new project XL Projects, and its task will be promotion of Russian art by all means.  

Artist and gallery owner Aidan Salakhova. Photo: 

Soon after that, same homepage has published the article of Ilya Wolf, chief financial executive of Aidan Gallery, where he has revealed in details, how much it costs to maintain a gallery. He performed a calculation of the typical art gallery expenses (which can be used by those who haven’t yet lost interest towards this business) and also describes why the environment around a gallery basically defines its success. In fact, a gallery is affected by almost everything: artists, art-critics, State, collectors, media etc.

Kulturtragers is the name Elena Bakanova uses to describe Russian art gallery owners in the online interview for Art Chronika («Арт-Хроника») magazine. Allegedly, recent changes owe to underdevelopment of the market and lack of positive dynamics in the gallery sales after financial crisis of 2008. She blames it on common changes in the country and points out that the stable period is over, and disappointment in current situation leads to apathy and total loss of interest. However, Bakanova is not going to close her own gallery Paperworks at Winzavod (Винзавод), apparently, in hope of further development of modern art system.

Reasons of galleries closing are analyzed in Kommersant («Коммерсант») newspaper by Valentin Diakonov. Some of these reasons are: very small amount of collectors and none of them willing to invest in local artists; financial clusters in the hands of the officials, hiding their true incomes; lack of support from the State for art-workers; communication failure between artists and gallery owners; lack of media interest in gallery exhibitions and, last but not least, funds that support artists beyond the frames of typical market models. According to Diakonov, there are also other problems, and they lie mostly in the heads of people trying to make money on cultural initiatives and mixing up concepts of private initiative and group action.

Maria Semendiaeva in blogs of Art Chronika shows her surprise by these sudden simultaneous complaints about hardship of maintaining a gallery. From the press conference, where closing of the three galleries has been announced, she comes to the conclusion that the main problem of art-market is lack of collectors. She quotes Marat Guelman, who has said that potential collectors are the new class of entrepreneurs/officials who avoid displaying their incomes. This sad verdict was out of tune with fun accompanying closing of showrooms at Winzavod (Винзавод) (report of the closing party is available at the homepage of Interview Russia). 

The discussion took more serious note around the round table at the Central House of Artist. Valery Ledenev writes about it in blog of Art Chronika magazine: ex-gallery owners have been reluctant answering questions about new sources of financial support. However, as the conversation progressed, they made following suggestions: since State is concerned about creating “new positive image of Russia abroad”, it could give provide some support. Ledenev points out that the events of few past months have lined up in a frustrating consequence: pursuit of Pussy Riot, departure of Sofia Trotsenko for Mayor’s Office, Vsevolod Chaplin’s initiative of creating an art-centre (featuring Marat Guelman), and now also reconception of the galleries, who will probably seek for financial help from the State.  

Elena Selina, XL Gallery and XL Projects

Maria Kravcova and Ekaterina Allenova have talked with Elena Selina about possibility to turn a blind eye to the fact that today the State is the one to pursuit artists and modern art. According to Selina, there are some things that the State could do to improve art situation in the country. Right now, she sees her own task in beginning the dialogue with the State about needs of modern art. Selina has as well explained, why it is not enough with different art-institutions and new initiatives (for instance, Shalva Breus’s plans to open a new museum of modern art) to take modern art system to fully operating.  

Nevertheless, what happened could be considered crisis of the system. And, as usually, crisis is an opportunity to look more closely at the art-market and the relationships in it. Three whales have sailed away, each in its own direction. However, the system has not broken down, and there definitely will be some reinstallations, new leaders and new starting points in it.