Interview with Larissa Greenberg – the director, curator and co-owner of gallery Grinberg, Moscow. How young photographers can get to gallery, who buys the modern photo and whether it is possible to claim that all talented authors are surely successful

Larisa Grinberg

Larisa Grinberg. From the private archive

Bleek Magazine: Tell us, please, what sets your gallery apart? How is it organized and what are its objectives? Which artists does it represent?

Larisa Grinberg: First of all, we’ve always been focused on a photographer’s international career. Several years of work are necessary in order to become internationally known – not only by exhibiting in one’s own space, but also by means of participating in festivals, competitions, art fairs, worldwide expositions, and by being featured in different publications. We can proudly state that we’ve managed to accomplish this goal – such names as Alexander Gronsky, Rena Effendi, Nikolay Bakharev, Sergey Chilikov are now known all over the world. Second, we’ve made serious efforts to exhibit in Russia still-unknown artists, who are important for the contemporary understanding of creative photography. Third, we have an understanding of the fragmentary nature of the history of Russian photography, and some of our expositions rethink some of its aspects. I’ve basically listed our goals. The gallery represents different artists, both emerging and established, Russian and foreign.

Alexander Gronsky

Photo: Alexander Gronsky

Bleek Magazine: What do you think of today’s market for Russian photography? Are there any new phenomena (trends) on the photography market or, on the contrary, has the market been rigidly formed for a while now? Who are your customers? Please, describe several types.

Larisa Grinberg: In the last ten years, the photography market has lived through its boom cycle, but ramifications of the crisis have had their effects on it, the growth in prices has slowed down. It’s hard to talk about a developed photography market in Russia, and about an art market in general. Personally, our market in Russia comprises of several well-informed collectors, private and institutional. For every such collector there are hundreds of others who are interested in photography but who do not genuinely understand how one can drop three-four thousand euros for a reproducible, mass-market photograph. Our main customers are foreign residents and institutions all over the world.

“We can proudly state that we’ve managed to accomplish this goal – such names as Alexander Gronsky, Rena Effendi, Nikolay Bakharev, Sergey Chilikov are now known all over the world.”

Bleek Magazine: Who buys modern photography and for what purposes? Why purchase contemporary photography?

Larisa Grinberg: This is a philosophical question. For example: in order to hang it on the wall, to bring something beautiful into one’s life, to thereby become a more harmonious person. Or in order to resell it when its author becomes a celebrity and his or her work is valued higher. In sum, it is bought with the same objectives that artworks are bought in general. Photography is an art like any other, it just converts a bit differently and sells for comparably less as a separate object.

Sergei Chilikov

Photo: Sergei Chilikov

Bleek Magazine: Do Russian photographers cater to the Western market?

Larisa Grinberg: In what sense? There are no so many noted photographers on the Western (or Eastern, or any other for that matter) market, there are no more than ten of them. They all are very original artists. Overall, contemporary artists imagine themselves in the world at large, not being limited by any particular country. Artists want to do their thing and to earn their living doing so. Do they cater to somebody by doing so? Only if they begin to create clichés out of their own (or another’s) ideas for profit. But if they are true artists, developing ideas and thinking – then no, they don’t play to the Western or any other market. And as for where to sell, they don’t really care about that.

Alexander Gronsky

Photo: Alexander Gronsky

Bleek Magazine: If now you were faced with the decision to start a gallery business in Russia or not, given your experience and knowledge, would you do it all over again?

Larisa Grinberg: Repeats don’t make sense. Every day I aspire not so much to repetition (even repetition of success), but to something new and stirring. I would do everything in a different way, based on my gathered experience and contacts. It would definitely be no worse.

Rena Effendi

Photo: Rena Effendi

Bleek Magazine: Please tell us about your favorite exhibition project

Larisa Grinberg: I rarely think about separate exhibitions. You have to show a single artist at least three times in order to understand how he or she is developing. That’s why the professional relationship with our artists is itself a long-term project.

“Every day I aspire not so much to repetition (even repetition of success), but to something new and stirring.”

Bleek Magazine: What was the most difficult project in your career?

Larisa Grinberg: Trent Parke, our first exhibition. We planned it six months in advance and we were really nervous.

Trent Parke

Photo: Trent Parke

Bleek Magazine: Which project would you like to realize/show – what is your ultimate “Dream project”?

Larisa Grinberg: I have so many of them. But it’s important to understand that everything imagined in an elevated manner is difficult for a commercial gallery to implement, because it’s basically a store. Within the framework of a commercial gallery there are a lot of very interesting projects that just don’t make any sense because this is a different format. I do such projects at another time, outside the gallery.

Nikolay Bakharev

Photo: Nikolay Bakharev

Bleek Magazine: How do photographers become represented by your gallery? What are the criteria of acceptance for new artistists into your gallery?

Larisa Grinberg: Photographers come to us and show their works. Or they send us a link to their website. Or I see their works at an art fair. Or in a magazine. Or somebody recommends an artist to me.

Rena Effendi

Photo: Rena Effendi

Bleek Magazine: Please give some advice to a young photographer on how to find a gallery and how to build a relationship with it.

Larisa Grinberg: Photographers secure representation in different ways. First of all, you have to get acquainted with their works. Young authors should recognize the kind of gallery that attracts them stylistically, why, and how they see themselves contributing to it. Having figured out the range of such galleries (in Russia, the range is rather narrow) – you should write to gallery dealers and send them your materials. Try to make contacts and discuss your work. In any case, it’s helpful to receive feedback. More often than not, it’s impossible to judge an artist solely by one project. It’s very rare for a gallery to accept someone straight out of art school. It takes time: you often have to participate first in group shows, non-commercial, and student exhibitions to get exposure.

“As for innovation in literary methods, only the keyboard replaced the pen, and that’s pretty much it. But new, important books still appear all the time.”

Bleek Magazine: How does demand or, on the contrary, lack of demand influence photographers’ freedom of expression and their creative motivation?

Larisa Grinberg: There are brilliant artists whose works aren’t sold for years. We can pay more attention to some and less to others – but it also depends on the artist’s position. He can be cut for unethical conduct, for example. Or for the absence of professional growth. All people are different, all of them have their own motivations. Some are corrupted by money, others are motivated by money. There is no direct correlation.

Sergey Chilikov

Photo: Sergey Chilikov

Bleek Magazine: Are there any common motifs in Russian photographers’ ideas and aesthetics that distinguish them from western photographers?

Larisa Grinberg: And what are the ideas and the aesthetics of Russian photographers? I can talk about Gronsky’s aesthetics and how it compares to Byalobrzhesky’s. But I can’t talk about western photographers’ aesthetics – it is in the eye of the beholder. The same goes for Russians.

 Alexander Gronsky

Photo: Alexander Gronsky

Bleek Magazine: Do you think that the majority of techniques in artistic photography are repeatable and exhaustible?

Larisa Grinberg: Techniques are the ways that the camera captures reality. With the development of the technology of photography, more photographic techniques and methods were discovered, but not that many. It is not about techniques or methods really, but about what the artist wants to get across. As for innovation in literary methods, only the keyboard replaced the pen, and that’s pretty much it. But new, important books still appear all the time.

Nikolay Bakharev

Photo: Nikolay Bakharev

Bleek Magazine: Is there any new name in Russian and world photography, that was discovered in the last five years, and whose works possess a unique language?

Larisa Grinberg: Of course. But every discovery is for a kind of circle of initiates. For example, I and some other Russian professionals in the photography business know Nikolay Bakharev’s art work very well. Yet his artwork has been around for more than 20 years! But he became prominent only after his exhibition in New York’s New Museum, and all the more so after last year’s Venice Biennale. Suppose I like this or that artist that only I know of – does this mean that I’ve discovered him or her? No. It’s only after I organized one-two-three exhibitions, published a book, and he or she is invited to festivals, and finally international museums want to buy his or her works and leading galleries want to represent him or her. If this kind of enlargement of the radius of attention from minimum to maximum means discovery, then it is hard and long-term work, and it’s undertaken by thousands of institutions all over the world every day with varying rates of success. For example, in the last couple of years, I discovered for myself Spaniard Fontecuertu, or the American Mittyard, but they are already rather famous. Or, last year, many thought of the Chilean Sergio Lorrein, recently departed, as a new discovery. But he hasn’t photographed since the beginning of the 70-s, and even if his artwork wasn’t exhibited, it was still featured in art books and catalogues. I suppose it’s a relatively quick turnaround as far as discoveries go for a contemporary public. And it’s a similar case with Bakhrev or Chilikov. And a similar situation with Alexander Gronsky or Rene Effendi.

© Bleek Magazine. Translation: Marina Nikolaeva.