Inside look: How auction houses work and who collects art in Ukraine

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The history of auction houses in Ukraine began in the 1990s and is associated with the name of the Kiev collector Alexander Bray. It was he who laid the foundation for the metamorphosis of the Soviet “collector” in the modern Ukrainian collector.

During independence, more than a dozen auction houses were opened and closed in Ukraine. Today, there are only two auctions that systematically hold tenders – these are Ducat and the Golden Section. We found out from their founders how the art business works, who is buying art now and what to expect from the market in the near future.

The Golden Section

Co-owner of the auction house Mikhail Vasilenko

My father and I began to engage in art dealership in the early 1990s. They sold applied art, icons and painting. The art market of the 1990s is basically an antiques market. He developed most rapidly. For other areas, it was a difficult period of formation.

In the 2000s, painting began to flourish in the Ukrainian art market, Soviet masters gained great popularity. Then there was a greater number of auction houses, about twelve in Kiev. They were not very large, but everyone was missing.

We founded our Golden Section auction house in 2004 and focused on the art of the beginning and the middle of the 20th century. The first auction went very poorly: of the 70 works submitted, only four were sold. But we did not give up, and already at the second auction we had 30% of sales. For a couple of years, we have achieved solid positions in the art market.

In 2006, there was a surge in the emergence of new collectors, while many people came to us who asked, bought and became regular customers. Such activity lasted several years, then a crisis occurred and everything collapsed sharply. Now the Ukrainian art market is gradually rising. Work prices have stabilized, there is no decline, but there is no growth yet. Now is a very favorable time to buy art. You can buy really high-quality work cheaply, later they will cost many times more. This time is not eternal. Soon prices will start to rise. This does not mean that then you can’t buy anything. It's just that it's much nicer now.

Selecting works for auction, we make selection to your liking. Three hundred proposals come to us at auctions, the dialogue goes on for six months, as a result we select about 70 works. The price of lots depends primarily on interest in the artist – how much he is in demand and represented, on the rarity of his work. In each period, there are authors who have become an established brand. In modern art, these are Arsen Savadov, Alexander Roitburd, Maxim Mamsikov.

Most collectors are attracted to a comfortable price. But the criteria are different for everyone, depending on what a person collects, what he lacks. Most of our customers hang purchased work on the wall or put on a shelf. Then they can take them off, change them.

"Ducat"

The owner of the auction house Leonid Komsky

The idea to create your own auction house arose, one might say, by chance. In 2009, when the crisis was in full swing, artists from the BZ-art squat turned to us. They had nothing to pay for a communal apartment, because of this, conflicts arose. We decided to hold an auction of their works, in the end we sold twice as much as expected.

Six months later, Dukat held its first commercial auction. Due to the crisis, the turnover of the art market has fallen dramatically, and auction activity has become for us one of the areas that helped to stay afloat. Since 2010, we began to conduct stable auctions at least twice a year. I will not say that we became immediately successful. Maybe because the old trends were still strong then, and we were already starting to promote unofficial art. It seemed to our team that it was cool and interesting, and the response was small.

In 2016, we began to conduct silent auctions. This is when bids are made not only on the day of bidding, but throughout the auction exhibition. The sales themselves take place without a licensor – the leading bidder, which simplifies the auction and allows buyers not to attend the auction. A quiet auction is not our invention, but we modified it, allowing us to bid not only offline, but also online, on the Dukat website.

Each auction has its own theme. The upcoming 9th Quiet auction will mainly feature 20th-century art. We paid special attention to the works of artists of unofficial post-war art: Alla Gorsky, Ada Rybachuk, Vladimir Melnichenko, Ernest Kotkov, Fedor Tetyanich. Famous contemporary artists such as Alexander Roitburd, Pavel Makov, and such young artists as Anna Khodkova and Kristina Yarosh (Etchingroom1), Yuri Pikul and Dmitry Kryshovsky will also be on display.

A very important principle in selecting works for an auction is the price. We rarely take jobs if they have an unattractive start. We set prices much lower than market prices. In our catalog under each lot you will see three numbers: start and estimate – the estimated final cost of the work, from and to. And there is a huge difference between them. We try to make the start two to three times lower than the estimate. We want people to get used to the fact that there is a chance at an auction to buy cheaper. Of course, it happens that in the course of the price for work rises above market value. You need to understand that the auction is to some extent a game.

Auction is a tool for determining the real value of a work of art. And first of all, the price depends on demand. You can say as much as you like that you are an expensive artist, but you cost as much as you are bought for.

What I only have not seen collectors! Someone takes a specific direction, someone takes time, someone takes one or two artists … Compiling a collection is akin to art, the collector is also an artist to some extent. This is the desire to create order out of chaos, to bind incoherent things. The collector's task is to find something that others have not discerned. Something valuable and interesting.

As a rule, people begin to collect art when their basic needs are satisfied – there is where to live and what is. Often these are people who are very far from art in their professional activities. In the 1990s, these were criminal figures, today – top managers and business owners.

Now we do auctions mainly not to earn money, but to revive the market. Auction is an action, excitement, emotion. The ending can be quite dramatic.

Boris Grinev

Collector

In Ukraine, collectors can be counted on the fingers and toes. And art dealers roughly know who is interested in what and what they collect and when they form auction lots.

The main selection criterion for me is expediency. Hang on the wall or store in bins? When you have thousands of works, you won’t hang them all on the wall. Museums are doing very well to meet this need. In Ukraine, almost no exhibitions take place, the exposition of which would not include works from our collection. This is about 15 exhibitions a year.

When buying new works, I often use tips, arrange consultations. Now Victoria Bavykina and Ekaterina Lebedeva are closely working with us – these are two experienced art historians.

The circle of collectors is changing all the time, but people are buying everything that we bought about 15 years ago. The new collector is an IT specialist. The one who has the money now. Sayn-art – all IT. The oligarchs collect more expensive – antiques, Aivazovsky. This is a completely different segment of art.

Eduard Dymshits

Collector

I am a very sophisticated collector. I am an art historian, and my basic education greatly influenced the nature of my gathering.

Collectors, like artists, are creepy egoists. Everyone has their own preferences for works and artists. Each creator has a peak period in which he is fully revealed, and these works are appreciated and cost much more. It is one thing when he seeks himself, and another when he finds himself. Malevich's work in Suprematism is one thing, and in Fauvism it is another, and the difference in price is enormous.

The first thing that works for me when I look at work is intuition. But someone said that intuition is a well-prepared practice.

There are three types of collectors: the first is the Soviet collector (they called themselves collectors), these were intelligent people, then the man of the 90s, who was an art person, was certainly interested, but there was, as they say, “a man in a red jacket” , without a cultural base, earned in a co-op or somewhere else, but some of them have become good collectors. Today's collector is something else. He is more rational.

Of great importance is the role of Pinchuk, he took the position of a philanthropist, collector, and so confirmed his significance. He created the PinchukArtCentre for young artists and at the same time entered the upper layers of high Western society. This idea turned out to be viable, and many people decided to convert collectible value into social one. A businessman who wants to be public, with a positive image, organizes exhibitions – this has become fashionable in a sense. In Soviet times, collecting was for the sake of collecting, in the 90s it was not clear that although some understood and bought for status, they were not so pragmatic, they were adventurous and romantic. Today they are already rationally approaching collecting.

Now is the time for shopping. Auctions are very influential, people who are immersed in the process revolve around them. Auction houses introduce them to artists, accustom to art. The Golden Section, Ducat create the artist’s brand, it causes interest and financial activity.

Stella Benyaminova

Collector

A collector or collector is not someone who just buys. This is the one who makes an informed choice. When brands buy, it happens unconsciously. To understand, you need to be educated – read books, look for your way. Finding yourself in our society is worth a lot, and art helps in this.

I always wish novice collectors find their way, read and watch a lot. The outer shell is more important today than the inner content. The collector may be wrong. To prevent this from happening, you need to study art history, then at least you can speak the same language with dealers. It is very important to find the right dealers, consultants. There is a certain circle of people whom I respect, and their opinion is not indifferent to me. The same Leonid Komsky – you can talk with him on any topic. Oksana Pashinova is also a professional in her field.

The existing market shows the state of our society, culture, people's attitudes to their history. You cannot destroy the previous one, you need to accumulate – so we become stronger. There are people infected with this culture, they can not be broken. We should strive to ensure that there is a fashion for collecting, but not for circulation. When you invest in art, you don’t want someone to destroy your investment.

I am interested in the games that are played in our art market. If you purchased a work of art, consider purchased the same money. All collectors are different – we have different preferences, different backgrounds, I would be bored if everyone collected the same thing. In my house, in my own way, foreigners like it here, because they see another Ukraine, just such Ukraine is close to me, I am pleased, I feel the land here, the origins. Let's make a fashion for culture, for our land.

Today, Ukrainian artists are underestimated. We have few collectors, about 50 people. As they say, the arena is still the same. Everyone knows who is buying what, when more caring people appear, a market appears. I am sure that today there are a number of artists who have established themselves on the world stage. Once Lord Beltimore of Sotheby's told me: “Stella, until your country and your people begin to respect, love and buy their artists, you are not interested in the world.”

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