Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Visibility and the art market
My first days in Romania were in the dark days (or rather nights – the lighting was appalling) of 1991. When I had a proper base (mid 1990s) I would buy the odd painting for decoration but was hardly a serious connaisseur let alone collector. Paintings only made an impact on me in May 2008 when I stumbled into the Phillippopolis Gallery in Plovdiv on the central plains of Bulgaria. I was bowled over and emerged, after my first visit, with 1940s seascapes by 2 renowned Bulgarian painters (Mario Zhekov and Alexandra Mechkuevska) neither of whom I had ever heard and with rustic scenes by 2 younger unknown painters. A later visit netted another famous seascape artist of the 1940s Alexander Moutafov – this time a river scene. Since then I have become friendly with the owners of several Sofia galleries and have almost 50 Bulgarian paintings – and still collecting. By the standards of the Bulgarian realist school, the Romanian paintings I could see here simply did not compare. And the small galleries in Bucharest are managed in a very different way from Bulgaria. There is little feel here of the passion and interest there – except that of money. And that goes for both the low and high end of the market. The low end clusters around the Matache market not far from the Gara de Nord – and are in fact antique shops with few paintings. Most are dark and primitive. I have not ventured into many of the up-market galleries – since they smack so much of bijou investments and big money. But a visit yesterday to the preliminary viewings for a major auction tomorrow (in the Opera House) by Artmark altered one of my attitudes and confirmed another. I realised first that Romanian painting of the first part of the 20th century (my favourite period) was in fact much better than I had thought – the catalogue which you can download will show you what I mean. It’s simply that it’s rarely on public display - whereas the numerous private galleries in Sofia and the municipal galleries throughout Bulgaria have lots of such work to see. There can be only 2 reasons for their invisibilty in Romania – either that state museums are hoarding them or they have been bought up by individuals and private companies. And my suspicion that art has become a commodity in Romania but not yet in Bulgaria was confirmed first by the prices expected at tomorrow’s auction – 150,000 euros minimum for a painting by Romania's most famous paineter - Grigurescu (In Bulgaria the country's favourites go for a maximum of 15,000 euros). One of Artmark’s Directors actually produced a book we could purchase which plotted the annual price changes of the Romanian imptressionist and post-impressionist painters on auction – and told us that the Raiffesen Bank had a special loan scheme for investing in paintings! He alos told us he expected 1,000 at Thursday's auction - whereas the Viktoria Gallery auctions in the Sheraton never attract more than 100.
All of this says a lot about the two societies.....Viktoria are actually auctioning tomorrow - and at Varna 4 hours' drive away - but it clashes with the Artmark one which is worth visiting as a bit of social observation.