COLLECTIVE IMAGE: Andrei Adamovsky, founder of the M17 center, about how people become collectors and why Ukrainians don’t buy paintings
Andrei Adamovsky, an investor of the M17 center, is one of the largest domestic collectors of Russian and Ukrainian art of the second half of the 19th — early 20th century. His collection includes works by Ivan Aivazovsky, Ilya Repine and Nicholas Roerich. He also owns a number of works by contemporary Ukrainian artists and sculptors.
In 2010, at Sotheby’s, he and his partners bought a unique collection of paintings by Odessa Avant-Garde artists of the early 20th century. The Ukrainian Avant-Garde Art Foundation, founded by Adamovsky, bought the heritage of Odessa citizens for almost $ 2 million.
Leadership Journey asked Adamovsky how a passion for collecting helps to live but hinders business. Although not always.
Leadership Journey (LJ): How did you come to collect? How did it all begin?
Andrei Adamovsky (A.A.): In my view, love for art is developed since childhood. My father was a journalist, and my parents had a huge collection, but not of paintings, but of books. We, children used to read a lot and contemplated the reproductions. I think then the interest in had arisen. And when I became a genuine businessman, I occasionally used to buy modern art. It was not collecting. When I was visiting a gallery and liked some painting, I was buying it… Once I saw in the office of a friend an Aivazovsky painting. I ushered the question, “Where did you get it?” I thought such things could only be in a museum. But it turned out: if you have money – you go and buy! For me, it was a great discovery, and this terrible passion for collecting had come.
All the paintings that I have collected are close to me, and a painting is good when you look at it for years, and you never get bored
LJ: Where is your collection stored now?
A.A.: At home. An acquaintance was visiting me and said, “I bet, it is hard to live in a museum”. I suffer, I suffer, this is terribly hard! People think that paintings at home inevitably cause some emotions. Here comes the consumer approach: a still life with fruits — in the kitchen and a flowers bouquet — in the living room. Suppose the “Murder of a False Dmitry”, a Makovsky masterpiece, would be on the wall. Many people would say, how can one live with such a painting in your house? In a museum, this is normal, but not in a bedroom! For me it is classy. I would enjoy having a Makovsky in the living room or even in the bedroom. All the artworks I have collected are close to me, and the painting is good when you are walking past it for years, and are not getting tired of it.
LJ: Is it just like with women?
YOU CAN GET BORED WITH WOMEN. PAINTINGS ARE BETTER THAN WOMEN
LJ: Do you have favorite paintings in your collection?
Collecting is like a business, it is a good investment, and on the other hand, there is constant competition, because you strive to create a better collection.
A.A.: Of course, but it is difficult to select. When you begin to collect systematically, you learn, read a lot about painting. After all, collecting is like a business, it is a good investment, and on the other hand, there is constant competition, because you are striving to create the best collection. You like a painting; you hunt for it, but dozens of other people also like it, not you alone.
LJ: Tell us about your journey from just buying paintings you liked to true collecting. What did help to shape the collection? Was it additional education, consultants?
I always buy on my own, without consultants. Of course, in the process of buying, you can listen to expert advice, but you make the decision yourself.
A.A.: I always buy on my own, without consultants. Of course, in the process of buying, you can listen to expert advice, but you make the decision yourself. I did not become a collector overnight. No, it takes years and like any passion, it draws you more and more. Sometimes you think, “Wow, the painting I bought is quite expensive! Mom dear, what have I done?” But later the doubts go away, but the painting remains. You no longer think about the price. You possess the painting and it makes you happy.
LJ: Are you a member of any collectors clubs?
A.A.: Yes, on the initiative of my friend, we have created a club (Collectors Club. — Ed.), which is small currently. We want to develop modern Ukrainian art. The more various clubs there are the better. I am ready to be a member of each with different membership.
LJ: Do you have any plans that you are willing to share?
А.А.: We created the club quite recently – the presentation was at the end of last year. This is primarily a place where we can get together and discuss issues of common interests. Collecting involves different types of communication. I think we will soon form a concept of what exhibitions we will do, which artists to promote, where to go. Last month we hosted German collectors; now they invite us to Cologne.
LJ: Do you have any collector role model? For instance, someone’s foundation or center of art seems to you an attractive and successful example.
My taste developed in stages, like the history of art: it began with Realism, with the Itinerants (a late 19th-century Russian school of realist painters – Ed), and then moved on to the Impressionists, to Modernism, to Avant-Garde
A.A.: No, of course not! I think my collection is the best. Like everyone does. That is why I say that this is also a competition. You see, creating a collection is very difficult. If you are, of course, not the sheik of Qatar, who has unlimited financial possibilities. It is necessary not only to have a resource but also to collect systematically, that is, to look constantly for things that suit you. And everyone does it according to their own understanding. In addition, over time, your tastes change, and so does the collection. My taste developed in stages, like the history of art: it began with Realism, Itinerants, later moved on to Impressionists, Modernism, and Avant-Garde.
LJ: And what did you come to now?
A.A.: I like contemporary art. Many people do not like it. They use to say, “God, what a horror! I’d paint better!” They just did not grow up. At the Avant-Garde exhibition, a group of young guys was teasing, “What did they mean by that? Draw a circle or square! Well, what is this nonsense? This is not art. ” And in M17 on Saturdays, a curator of the National Museum holds lectures – on artists, on the Avant-Garde, on Supremacism. And a security man, who was listening to these lectures for two months, stopped those young guys and said, “Let me explain to you.” He explained and they stopped their talking nonsense, quieted down and went around the exhibition once again.
LJ: This is the most important point – the explanation.
One of our goals is for people to receive a cultural education, going from Realism to Contemporary art.
A.A.: Of course, therefore, no matter how pathetic it may sound, but one of our goals is for people to receive a cultural education, going from Realism to Contemporary art. For this purpose, we are doing this kind of projects. Financially they are not profitable. At all.
LJ: Do you think business and collecting influence each other?
A.A.: Extremely. You start spending all the money. Of course, you can call an investment, but in fact, it is a passion. And when passion is combined with business, you, like any passionate person, make a lot of mistakes. Business requires an exact calculation, but here the calculation is no good: if you like a painting — you buy it, often too expensive. Evidently, for dealers and gallery owners art is a business, but not for me. I will not sell a single painting in my life.
LJ: You do not exhibit your collection. But will you maybe do it in the future?
А.А.: Almost all collectors come to this eventually. At the very beginning, you do not think about what you will do with the collection. I still do not know, but I am starting to think, because not a single collection has been preserved in full, from generation to generation. It may be inherited, but someone may interrupt the chain and sell it. I think the first thing my children will do after my death they will sell the paintings. They are not interested. Dad buys something; dad is crazy. Private museums are a fashionable theme currently. In America, they are quite common. Another alternative is to donate your paintings to a museum. I used to think, wow — to donate hundreds of millions to a museum! It is incredible! Now I understand that this is normal. For example, a rich family of Thyssen-Bornemisza, which had the largest private collection of art in the world, sold a collection worth billions to Madrid for a nominal fee (In 1992 — Ed). A museum was opened especially to host this collection (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum — Ed).
LJ: Do you consider the M17 center as a potential repository for your collection?
I want to gather the developers of our city, businessmen, and officials to show how contemporary sculpture can decorate any space
A.A.: No, M17 is a platform that promotes contemporary art. For me, this is pure patronage: I invest money in the platform and earn nothing. I want it to be an open platform for people who are passionate about culture and can later become collectors. Soon we will have a sculpture project; we will invite a world star Jaume Plensa, and will exhibit Ukrainian authors – Nazar Bilyk and Alexey Zolotarev. I want to gather the developers of our city, businessmen, and officials to show how contemporary sculpture can decorate any space. I do not want M17 to be associated only with me, on the contrary — I want to involve as many people as possible. The more friends the M17 center has, the more people get interested, help financially or volunteering, the easier it will be for us to create cultural projects. I want serious patrons to join to do something together. People often say that we do not have an art market, because people are poor, but this is only partly true: we are not used to buying paintings, we do not have the appropriate culture.
THE MORE PEOPLE GET INTERESTED, HELP FINANCIALLY OR VOLUNTEERING, THE EASIER IT WILL BE FOR US TO CREATE CULTURAL PROJECTS
LJ: Yes, the more collectors there are the better for the society and artists.
A.A.: Artists also should not sit and wait for someone «to open» them. We have many talented guys, but none of them graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. They are waiting for some uncle to come and invest millions in them. No, no one will invite you to the exhibition, or take you to London, because there are thousands of artists in the world. You need to study; to be talented is not enough. If you graduate from a prestigious academy, then collectors will see you. Moreover, society needs from childhood to instill a desire for beauty. I have many rich smart friends who do not understand art. Their homes are full of gold — and not a single painting!
YOU NEED TO STUDY, TO BE TALENTED IS NOT ENOUGH
LJ: Do you know how culture is instilled in childhood in other countries? Are there methods that we could adopt in Ukraine?
Educating people is the first task of the state, because education is the key to success
A.A.: In any normal state, there are funds that support art. The higher the level of development of society, the greater the budget of culture. Educating people is the first task of the state because education is the key to success. Therefore, our goal is to attract as many people as possible. Not everyone will become collectors: not everyone has the possibility to buy something. However, even if you cannot buy paintings, open a book, start reading about art, and bring up your taste.
LJ: Do you remember the first painting you bought?
A.А.: “The Portrait of a Kyrgyz Boy” by Felix Yusupov was one of the first in 2001or 2002. I saw it at the dealer at the exhibition. The painting cost about $ 100,000. I still consider it one of my favorites.