Art director of the Moscow «RuArts» Gallery of contemporary art on market, collectors and russian photography
Catherine Borissoff is an art director of the Moscow «RuArts» Gallery of contemporary art. In the course of her professional career she worked as a shooting producer and a photo editor for «L’Officiel», «Elle», «GQ», «Сноб», also being engaged in the organization of exhibitions and art projects curatorial work.
Bleek Magazine: How would you describe in general terms the contemporary Russian photography collector? What kind of person is it and how serious and consistent (s)he is in approaching the collection compilation? What is his/her basic motivation? Does this person basically prefer this very medium or contemporary photography attracts him/her in the first place, because of its investment potential, alongside with other forms of contemporary art? And does such a collector exist at all?
Catherine Borissoff: I truly can describe Russian collectors only in broad terms to, as long as their number is not so big. However, I can single out two categories.
The first category includes a small number of amateurs of photography and their motivation is their love to photography, but since they do not usually have considerable financial resources, they quite actively sell and exchange the works from their collections. They often collect works that date back to the Soviet and early post-Soviet period.
The second category is people who started collecting following the fashion. They did not seek to invest in photography, but most often being representatives of the new economic elite, and, by definition, businessmen, they can really estimate the value of their collections.
Bleek Magazine: How can you explain the reason of a small number of collectors? After all, Russia does have a social class, formed a long time ago, which possesses sufficient intellectual and financial capital that would allow them to engage into collecting and perceive photography as a way of investment.
Catherine Borissoff: Firstly, collecting is a vocation, a serious passion for life and actually not everyone is ready to become an art collector. Then, as long as the secondary market is not yet formed in Russia, one cannot see photography as a stable investment, although a significant number of photographers have long been regarded in the West, but here, purchasing a piece of art today, you cannot be sure that you will be able to pledge or sell it tomorrow.
Bleek Magazine: What strategy do you stick to when dealing with your clients? Is an art director more focused on the customer’s request, or (s)he takes an active position in the formation of this request and the market?
Catherine Borissoff: Art director always tries to introduce customers to the works of those authors, (s)he represents, but that does not mean that the client’s opinion is ignored. I was lucky to have not only educated and savvy regular customers, but also quite open-minded ones. I enjoy being surprised by our customers’ choices, by their unusual tastes and views.
Bleek Magazine: Could you, please, tell us a few words about the system of relations between galleries and contemporary photography collectors in Russia. If to compare the domestic and foreign practices, can we say that Russian collecting has its own specifics, and if so, what is it?
Catherine Borissoff: I do not think there is some national specificity in collecting, the only thing that distinguishes Russia from the West is the fact that there are really quite a few formed and functioning collections, whereas here it is still a rare issue.
Bleek Magazine: Do collectors often act without any intermediaries, by contacting the author they are interested in directly?
Catherine Borissoff: Unfortunately, as a rule, the collector acts without intermediaries, in the case of contemporary photography and living authors. On condition (s)he is not interested in receiving guarantees, gallery certificates and the confirmation of the number of reprints. However, when it comes to vintage prints and well-known authors, most collectors will come to the gallery or to an art dealer they are familiar with. Not many collectors like to communicate with heirs or spend months searching for a work.
Bleek Magazine: Is it characteristic for Russian collectors to exhibit and/or promote works from their collections?
Catherine Borissoff: It totally depends on the collection and on the way the collector treats it. There are important collections and there are also collections “for private use,” someone can be eager to promote them and increase their cost, others would prefer to modestly “treasure” his/her purchases. Many collectors just do not want to part with the works, or they are afraid for their safety. But I personally always mention to my customers that they can and must make their works available for exhibiting.
Bleek Magazine: Have there been any exhibitions where the works purchased from your gallery were exhibited?
Catherine Borissoff: In 2016 two museum exhibitions in Moscow and St. Petersburg are being planned, which are likely to feature several works from our clients’ private collections.
Bleek Magazine: In recent years, the interest in contemporary photography in Russia has grown significantly; new institutions appeared, and together with them – the new generation of artists who work with the medium of photography. How have these changes affected the market of Russian photography? How do collectors and gallery owners treat young authors?
Catherine Borissoff: Only well-established figures enjoy real success. If we talk about young artists, only those who play on the field of contemporary art become famous. And they are far from being numerous. Gallery owners and collectors either immediately believe in the young author and start investing in him/her, thus contributing to the artist’s promotion, or keep an eye on him/her for quite a long time and only then begin to purchase their works of art.
Bleek Magazine: As you know, nowadays many authors prefer to call themselves not photographers, but artists who work with the medium of photography. Do you think it is connected with the fact that the status of contemporary art is slightly higher than the actual status of photography? And is such a distinction important for galleries and collectors?
Catherine Borissoff: In fact, I have already given the answer to this question. Artists or photographers who work in contemporary art gain some success, because there are many more contemporary art collectors. It is rather difficult to be noticed working in traditional photography, thus many position themselves as artists. Photography collectors decide for themselves whether a work of art should make a part of their collection, and gallery owners often do not draw a distinction between these concepts.
Bleek Magazine: Speaking of contemporary Russian photography, what trends and names can you quote as the most popular at the moment?
Catherine Borissoff: We are still successfully selling Sergei Borisov, and judging by the interest of home and foreign museums, galleries and auctions, this author is topical and in demand. I can also mention Mikhail Rozanov, whose exhibitions are opening one after another in important venues in Moscow, Timofey Parshchikov and his appearance at international fairs, as well as a great project in the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art in Ermolaevsky, Nikita Shokhov whom I have been monitoring for quite a few years.
Bleek Magazine: If to talk about global trends, photo books have recently become a popular collectible. Is there any interest in this format from Russian collectors?
Catherine Borissoff: RuArts Foundation began publishing photo books in 2007, and we are keen promoters of this kind of collectibles, but, in my opinion, there are not so many photo books collectors yet.
Bleek Magazine: In what way does the cost of domestic and foreign photographers differ? Is there any reason to talk about the positive dynamics of prices at the Russian authors’ photographs in recent years? What are the main factors in pricing on the Russian market?
Catherine Borissoff: The cost of Russian photographers’ works is considerably lower due to a small international demand. I would say that the dynamics is present, but not significantly. Pricing factors are the same as in other countries – the name’s popularity, the presence of the work in museums and private collections, important exhibitions, publications.
Bleek Magazine: How do you see the future of the Russian photography market?
Catherine Borissoff: Based on what has been said, we can conclude that the Russian photography market should finally be established, since in Russia there is a big number of potential collectors and both the XIX-XX century and very young authors worthy of interest. The trouble is that there are few sites for exhibitions, galleries that would sell them and the critics’ and art dealers’ work is almost invisible. As soon as they appear, the market will make the leap.
© Bleek Magazine. Interviewer: Andrei Belkov. Translation: Olga Bubich.