Breathing Art, an interview by Simon Hewitt

I think you are the gallerist in Western Europe who has been selling Russian contemporary art for the longest – many other galleries have come and gone. 

Oh yes, I feel like an old fighting veteran, I often notice that I’m keeping silent about the year of the foundation – I want to keep up the image of a new, young gallery! In the year one thousand nine hundred and ninetythree (a year after my final move here), I began to participate in art fairs and manifestations in the Netherlands and Belgium, and in ‘96, this led to a large gathering in the gallery and a ribbon of people queuing in front of the gallery door in Heusden as the opening ribbon was cut.

What is the reason for your success, and what do Western collectors like about Russian art?
The reasons for my longevity are many. First of all, this is the genius of my artists, their loyalty to their purpose and trust in me. Friendship connects me  with every artist, no, this is not friendship, this is almost a marriage. And what is marriage, it is love, admiration, respect, money, money, and again money, but most importantly a joint spiritual development.
The location of the gallery is the second reason, yet no less important. The Netherlands! They are so small and so big and always very special. Just 400 years ago, foreigners who visited the Lowlands were amazed at the paintings  on the walls of farmhouses. This means that there is a deep rooted tradition of acquiring a work of art. But I do not aim for the taste of modern Dutch farmers!
And possibly I would not have survived if in 1998 I would not have been invited to participate at Art Basel with the stunning and beautiful photographic series of Rauf Mamedov, The Last Supper. His now world-famous projects with recognizable actors with Down syndrome, brought my gallery into international orbit. All subsequent years, I managed to keep and develop my international relations from little Heusdan, and in 2007, many years of cooperation began with another very talented artist, also working in the medium of photography, Katerina Belkina.

In this historical fortified city, on the facade of my house between the windows of the second floor, the year of construction is 1583. The street is called Engstraat, which can be translated as Narrowstreet, but also as terrifyingstreet as in Medieval times this was the way to the place of execution. If Russian artists ask me where my gallery is geographically, I reply as follows: “In Brabant, near the city where Hieronymus Bosch was born and lived”. “Ahhh!” –  followed by an interjection, —that’s great! And everything becomes clear to everyone.
My personal life, the gallery life, history of the Netherlands, art from Russia, everything is intertwined and everything polinates each other.

Collectors like the individual talent of my artists (like with an accelerated pulse and resonating heartbeat). Only later do they find out that the artist is from Russia or as they say from the post-Soviet area, such as the former professional monumentalist Anwar Abdoullaev, who was born in Uzbekistan.
I think that the collectors like a high dose of irrationality along with an almost messianic attitude to the profession, they like the existential depth: all life is all death, and as a result, the viewer’s approach to Aristotle catharsis.

Also, what do you think about the state of the international market for Russian contemporary art today?

Was there an international market for Russian contemporary art? Is it self-deception? And do we need to strive for a market on the Manhattan model?
In the late 80s – early 90s in the West there was such enthusiasm, curiosity and sincere interest in Russia and the most romantic expectations of the flourishing of Russia after liberation from communism. (Well, the Soviet Union was not mature enough to the phase of communism, but with these subtleties it didn’t bother itself here, communism was fallen and basta!)
The borders opened and the cultural dialogue became many times more intense, but as the brilliance of political fashion diminished, caution increased in the gallery community to the invasion of artists from Russia (or, as they said from Eastern bloc countries). Who wants to freely share their market that was developed with so much blood, sweat and tears? Then, already in pre-crisis times, I began to hear, like a refrain, from especially smart clients: do Russian oligarchs buy the works of this artist? In other words, does this name have a chance of capitalization?

This market appears to have declined over the last decade – do you agree?

In the Netherlands (and in Belgium), the market continues to live and breathe, that is, how elegant it sounds in Dutch – works of art continue to change owners. This process of cultural enrichment will continue, as a change of day and night, regardless of politics, as long as there are special people on earth, the artists. And while there are lovers of fine art. These people have a special organ behind the ears, it is not visible, it is covered with hair. These are the gills that open when contemplating a work of art and transform the sublime into life-giving oxygen. This public cannot live without art.

Do you think the market can grow stronger? If yes, why? 
I do not know how to answer this question. After 26 years of life “in business,” this market seems to me to be more a natural element than a orderly institution. Why? I will answer with the stanza of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin:

Would Desdemona love her moor as
The Moon adores the gloom of night?
Because no wind’s blast, eagle’s flight,
Or maiden’s heart abides by orders …

Because the wind, the eagle and the heart of the maiden are no law.

Heusden, March 2019