Interviewed by Elīna Zuzāne
Russian art market couldn’t be described as modest yet there are only a handful of Russian art galleries that are consistently working with international artists, taking part in the production of globally recognized exhibitions and participating in transnational art fairs. One of such contributors is “Regina Gallery”, which was established by Vladimir and Regina Ovcharenko in Moscow in 1990.
Undertaking the challenge of opening an art space in an economically and politically unstable environment, “Regina Gallery” pioneered into Moscow’s gallery scene and since its inauguration plays a dominant role in promoting Russian contemporary art. Working closely with notable established authors (Oleg Kulik, Ivan Chuikov, Andrei Monastyrski, Sergey Bratkov), emerging artists (Pavel Pepperstein, Oleg Golosiy) and significant international talents (Claire Fontaine, Jonathan Meese, Mike Kelley, Gabriel Orozco) the gallery has positioned itself as one of the leading contemporary spaces in its home country and is consistently invited to take part in significant biennales (Documenta, São Paulo Biennial, Venice Biennial) and art fairs (Art Basel, Frieze, The Armory Show). Last year, however, “Regina Gallery” decided to expand its view and opened the gallery’s first exhibition space outside of Russia, settling into a former merchant warehouse in the arty Fitzrovia district, in London.
Aretrritory.com spoke to Vladimir Ovcharenko, director of “Regina Gallery” and a prominent figure in Russian art scene, to learn more about the gallery’s new venture.
Maybe you can start by telling me how would you characterise “Regina Gallery”?
I don’t know. We support artists we like. We have a list of international artists and an international collector base. We promote talented artists and we try to find good collections for them. It’s just like every gallery. It’s difficult to describe what the difference is between their list of artists and ours. Maybe people who are not directly linked to the gallery can recognise this difference.
How did you decide to open your first gallery?
The gallery first opened in 1990 but I don’t know how I came to this decision. It was exciting to walk into the art world. But in the 1990’s the market in Russia was not ideal. We did exhibitions but not so many sales. That’s how it looked back then but it was very interesting to be there. It became a part of life – to do shows and support the artists, with hope that one day you can sell and get the money back.
And where does the idea to develop a new space in London come from?
It was the next move. A lot of Russian collectors travel to London and live there. It was also a possibility for our gallery and artists to be shown somewhere else. Now we have an opportunity to do exhibitions in two spaces, not just one. It’s interesting for our artists and it’s interesting for us. If our artists are happy, they produce shows and create more works, which we can sell in London and in Moscow. The thought always remains – if an artist is good and if I don’t represent him or her well, someone else will. Why lose the possibility to someone else? That applies to all promising artists.
What has been the local response to your gallery in London?
Of course, some exhibitions are more interesting than others. For example, we did a show with Clare Fontaine and it was reviewed well. The exhibition made the No.3 position in Top5 art exhibitions in Time Out. Our exhibitions by Russian artists are maybe less advertised. They are new names to British audience. We do our job very fair but you never know how people will respond, what the feedback will be.
Does the location of the gallery influence its identity?
I don’t think so. They are different spaces but the program is quite similar. (Pauses) For the international artists, it’s a bit problematic to be shown in London because usually they already have dealers there. They cannot be exhibited in London. In London we support Russian artists but in Russia we do a mix of international authors – from Germany, Great Britain, United Stated and Russia. We have many possibilities.
Some of international galleries, like the White Cube, have shared an opinion that for a foreigner it’s almost impossible to open a gallery in Russia. Is it a benefit for you?
Yes, but you know White Cube has three spaces in London. They are good at what they do and people know their program. At the moment Russian art market is not in a very good shape. Maybe that’s the reason. But it will pick up and when it does, we will see all these great competitors in the centre of Moscow.
Was it a challenge to move into a different region?
We have a great experience in dealing with different galleries and international collectors but it’s always difficult to be in two different places at the same time. That’s why you have a team and if the team members can do the business well, it’s easier. You cannot do it alone.
It’s not only me who makes the sales – we have a team of people in London and in Moscow. We actually need more sales people. We always support good sales. If there is someone who can sell, we are always interested in him or her.
In one of your previous interviews you expressed that it’s not your intention to turn the new gallery into a “Russian ghetto”. Does your client base differ from London to Moscow?
Collectors everywhere are the same – Americans start by collecting American art; Germans – German art and Russians will always start with Russian art, but afterwards people become interested in international art.
Today the key is in the communication. We can send e-mails to Africa, London or Riga and it doesn’t matter where the collector is. Within a second the information travels to any country. If you have a telephone or an Internet access, you can communicate with anybody. There is no difference how we operate in London or Moscow. We can communicate with our clients from Eastcastle Street in London, from our office in Moscow or from a hotel room.
I know that a couple of years ago people were very involved in buying or investing in Russian contemporary art. How is the situation now?
After the financial crisis people make decisions slowly. Also the political situation in Russia doesn’t bring advantages to be interested in arts. We will see. It’s up and down all the time. Some years are better than others. Russian people are educated and constantly looking at Europe, where contemporary art means something. One day we will see the contemporary art booming even better than four years ago.
In general the Russian art market is doing good. There are a lot of new artists appearing every year. It’s not as fast as everybody would like it to be but it’s moving in the right direction. It’s growing slowly.
Do you collect art?
I never say that I am a collector because in my case it would create a competition between the gallery’s collectors and myself. That’s why I don’t do it. Maybe I can ask for a special price, for better things but I am always ready to sell.
Are you planning to open more galleries in the near future?
Not at the moment. We are always looking for new possibilities but at the moment it doesn’t involve opening a new gallery. We don’t see the possibilities of opening a gallery anywhere else. To open a new gallery is always an investment and you have to do considerable sales to be profitable. If we find a new opportunity, we will do it, but not right now. I can’t see that it could be profitable.