Ksenia Podoynitsyna, gallerist
Life of Ksenia
A young girl lives her life in London, enjoying every bit of it : her job in investment banking and the lifestyle of the pulsating city, vibrant with parties, but above all, full of galleries, museums, art. Same as in Berlin, from where she moved few months earlier. Back in her hometown and still dealing with alternative investment, it takes her a few months and an economical crisis to drop everything and try her luck with contemporary art.
Her first strategy was to promote young Russian artists, especially the conceptualists (see interview of one of them : Ian Ginsburg). She rented an old flat in a 19th century building and mixed bas-reliefs and artworks by former students of the Institute of Contemporary Art. Her intuition was right — the concept worked. Two years later, when the frustration of not being able to exhibit big works and installations caused by restrictive space had passed, she moved to the fairly-recent Winzavod art cluster.
Since then, she has been running one of the biggest galleries in the ancient factory, Gallery 21 : a 350 square-meter space where art is displayed from ground to ceiling, stairs and brick walls included. If 8 years ago she had to struggle to be considered as a professional and not just a blond young girl having fun, she has now earned the respect of art collectors and other gallerists, both as a business woman and an artistic expert.
“For me it is a business and it took time to prove it, so that people stop asking for 50% discount. Why? Try to go and buy a Rolex watch with 50% discount!”
What drives her ?
Ksenia exudes a palpable determination, a lack of hesitation that goes with media training, a good knowledge of herself and a trust in her intuition.
“I like tangible goods. I need to touch and to see the result of my actions, which is the case with exhibitions and fairs. Since I chose art, I feel these vibes in my life much more than when I was in a banking.”
Her decision to take risks and dedicate her life to the art business might have its roots in Old Europe.
“When I lived in London and Berlin, I discovered a lifestyle: galleries and museums are an inseparable part of life. It is also what is permanent. When someone dies, his body and his money go and he will hardly be remembered. But art remains and builds history.”
Her fascination turned into a concrete mission: recreate this lifestyle in Russia by promoting contemporary art. By doing so, she also put her wealth management skills to good use and gave it meaning, business- and art-wise.
Her vision about contemporary art in Russia
Very interesting things are happening today in Russia (I can testify to that!). Whereas 10 years ago it was difficult to see any young artist emerging, the scene now has its established names, new champions, fresh seeds and so on. Yet, Ksenia calls for international awareness.
“We are a bit isolated. We need a push to be a part of the international community. Moscow is very close to Europe and the mentalities are changing, little by little”.
One of the problems is that, if there is a real feed of information about Russian contemporary art (maybe not the whole country but at least Moscow and St Pet.), it is all in Russian - which does not help to promote it abroad - and it is dominated by a crew of experts, who sometimes fail to capture the whole picture. At the same time, Russian artists take their chances in the international game, are often represented abroad, and use the web as a launch pad. Especially the young generation who share their work on Facebook or Instagram and invent a way to promote themselves in lieu of a manager.
What she does about it ?
With InArt, Ksenia dedicates herself to solve the lack of trustful information. By doing so, she fulfills both a collective and an individual need: while strengthening the structure of the market, she also achieves personal growth, finding new opportunities to sell outdoors as well as nurturing herself.
First, she collects datas. All informations about any show in Russia are aggregated : names, artworks, prices and so on. The process will be automatized soon, but for that Ksenia had to build trust.
“The first time we asked the gallerists to share their numbers, it was quite difficult because they were wondering what we would do with it. But now, it is easier every year”.
Today, more than 50 galleries send data, and artists are encouraged to update their profile. These data and analytics are gathered in a art map and an annual report about Russian art market. She opted for a methodology inspired by her years in banking.
“The foundation of the rating is the resumé of artists (almost 1500 artists are currently registered), data from galleries and auction houses and experts rating. It is a mathematical model. Experts and artists have no direct connection, which makes it objective and transparent”.
For the second year, she hereby provides the actors of the Russian market and the international scene with objective information about this little-known activity. With the market’s volume and its trends analysis come a rating of established and emerging artists. Here lies the value of the model: the feeling one can have from his experience of the market is not always confirmed by the rating. Some artists are very active but quiet about it, and thus underestimated.
InArt also offers services. Convinced that artworks are luxury goods, Ksenia wants to offer dedicated services to help buyers with the operational tasks, as well as in the understanding of what they are buying. Again, she bears in mind her goal to immerse art in the Russian lifestyle and to build a community of collectors, whereas they are too often just investors sensitive to political context.
At last, she recently opened an online store: a way to gather more open information as well as to be part of the digital global space. Because the sky is the limit. Going from a gallery to a platform, she tries a different approach.
“When you show people that you did something for common good, you earn respect, and maybe it will make a significant change for the whole Russian contemporary art scene. It is the highest aim.”
Indeed, Ksenia dreams that in the near future, the Russian market will become part of the international field, and that foreign collectors will have more faith in the market and a better understanding of the works. Because she is not a dreamer but a hard worker, she is now evaluating what her next step should be, exploring every opportunity our open and digital world can offer.
Picture taken at the Ekaterina Foundation by Natasha Polskaya for the exhibition "The arrival of the train".
To know more about the InArt report, here is an article by Le Journal des Arts (in French) and an a podcast : ArtTactic (in English).