Why are Russian corporations collecting fine art?

Corporate art collections are only just starting to grow in Russia. Nevertheless a number of serious collections already exist that are open to a wide range of admirers.

Collections of UniCredit Bank. Source: Press photo

In this field, Russian companies are relying on the experience of their overseas colleagues already working in Russia. Thus, Deutsche Bank, whose collection consists of over 60,000 items, is exhibiting around 170 works of art in Russia. The Moscow office is decorated with works by not only German artists, but also Russian artists—Ilya Kabakov, Andrey Roiter and Vadim Zakharov. The bank also purchases works by young artists, and considers its biggest success to be in finding artists with a lot of potential who are underestimated on the art market.

One of the idiosyncrasies of corporate collections in Russia is that founders prefer national art. As the curator of the Russian section of the Unicredit Bank collection, this is also Alexander Balashov’s approach. This collection consists of over 60,000 works of art, and the Russian section, which began in 1993, contains more than 100. The principal direction of this collection is in the art of the 1920s and 1930s, which, as Balashov remarks, is very appealing to investors. The collection houses rare works by Russian post-avant-garde artists—Nadezhda Udaltsova, Rostislav Barto and Leonid Zusman.    

An exception to this rule is the collection of the development company Capital Group. As reported in the press, this collection has been in existence for more than 10 years and began to be formed on the initiative of the chairman of the board of directors, Vladislav Doronin. He is a real connoisseur of contemporary art. Doronin’s taste and abilities have meant that the collection, aside from Russian artists, has been enriched with works by very well-known overseas artists. Expert advice has also proved useful, which is where specialists in the field of contemporary art—such as director of the Moscow House of Photography, Olga Sbivlova and the curator Aydan Salakhov come in. Works by Anisha Kapoor and Frank Stella adorn the public areas in the business center.  

Mostly paper art works and photographs find their way into the Deutsche Bank collection, as these can easily be exhibited in offices. The concept of the “Art Works” collection is “Art in the Workplace.” This means that employees have access to art, which, in the opinion of company heads, encourages their creativity.

This principle underpins other collections—for example, that of SDM-Bank, which contains over 400 pieces and around 100 works of art by Soviet and Russian artists. These include Aleksandr Labas, and Natalya Nesterova, as well as other less well-known artists. Thanks to the relatively low cost of the pieces, the collection even grew during the crises of 1995, 1998 and 2008. This collection is not rich in masterpieces, but, in the opinion of representatives of the bank, it relates to the “art that everyone can enjoy” format.

Access to the general public is of no less an importance in corporate collections. Aside from the fact that Deutsche Bank exhibits its pieces at exhibitions, excursions are offered around the bank’s buildings. The exhibitions took place in the Hermitage in 2002 and in the GMII Gosudarstvenniy Muzey Izobrazitelnykh Iskusstv im. Pushkina (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts) in 2004.

Unicredit Bank does not hide its collection either. Pieces from their collection were exhibited in Moscow on several occasions: in 2009, at 20 Yarkikh Russkikh Let (“20 Outstanding Russian Years”) at the Stakheyev Estate; in 2011, at the Lyudi i Gorod (“People and the City”) exhibition at the Vinzavod Contemporary Arts Center; and in 2012, at the Postavangard (“Post Avant-Garde”) exhibition at the Multimedia Art museum.

The bank is now holding an exhibition in one of the Moscow branches. “We decided to bring the works that are in the bank out to the public and to display them not in the conventional space of a gallery, but in the real atmosphere of the day-to-day,” says Balashov. “A dialogue took place between the bank and its visitors in the language of art, between the pragmatic side of life and the humanitarian issues that art raises.”  

Gazprombank also planned to make its collection as accessible to the public as possible. The bank started to collect works by current Russian artists just a few years ago, but a worthy framework has already taken shape. Not only does Gazprombank purchase works by established artists like Ivan Chuykov and Andrey Monastyrsky, but also it also buys pieces from those whose career is just beginning. Part of the collection is on display in Vienna, at the “Dreaming Russia” exhibition.

Collection of Ak-Bars. Source: Press photo

Interest in corporate collections is not confined to the capital. The AK BARS bank in Kazan also has a collection of its own. This was also based on the principle of “Art in the Workplace,” but it grew into the independent branch Ak Bars Galereya (“Ak Bars Gallery”). There are around 300 pieces in the collection, which is open to the public—mainly by Soviet artists, including Dmitry Nalbandian, Arkady Plastov, Nadezhda Udaltsova and Aleksandr Tyshler.

Novobank from Velikiy Novgorod has also amassed a small collection made up of around 70 exhibits. These are mainly Russian landscapes from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century (Arkady Kuindzhi and Konstantin Korovin), as well as contemporary Novgorod art.

Corporate collections improve the image of a company, but they also have another positive aspect. The purchase of Russian art by high profile clients supports the revival of the national art market, which, at the moment, is not in the best position. Given a favorable set of circumstances, large companies could become important players in the art market. 

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