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How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman

  5 
The well-known gallerist and art manager Marat Guelman, who has numerous projects in the field of contemporary art under his belt, gives practical recommendations and answers questions about the system of evaluation and pricing, the cultural landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
and the "generational" problem.
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
"How to love contemporary art?" is a provocative question. It is supposed to be a kind of bitter medicine, which should be foisted on the child by hook or by crook. How to love reading, then? By force? By making reading a habit? However, we are not easily frightened by provocation: joking apart, I’ll try to tell what I really think.

1. Broaden your horizons, keep in touch with the new art

It is impossible to love all art. It is very diverse: even contemporary artists often profess directly opposite concepts, and respond differently to the questions "What is art?" and "What place does a contemporary artist belong to?" But before choosing what you like, it’s important to broaden your horizons. Therefore, my first advice is to visit overview exhibitions: be it "Contemporary Art of China" or "Video Art in the 20th century" - at such exhibitions, curiosity is the main incentive. You are kind of asking yourself "What is this Chinese art?" rather than "Will I or won’t I hang it on my wall?" Your taste is not the key to understanding art, but rather the lock to it. It’s like something from the "Native Speech" textbook stroke a child’s eye in the fourth grade and became the taste! Since then the person’s mind is closed to anything not resembling the "Russian Five" (Repin, Levitan, Aivazovsky, Serov and Vasnetsov). Or the child found a catalog of Impressionist paintings and started comparing all the artists with Cézanne. That is, the taste of any person is not initially developed. It’s looking for the familiar.

Therefore, it is necessary to get acquainted with everything, and then the favourite will inevitably appear.


The 56th Venice Biennale: an installation "Perspectives" by Chiharu Shiota transforms nearly four mi
The 56th Venice Biennale: an installation "Perspectives" by Chiharu Shiota transforms nearly four miles of red yarn, 200 pairs of shoes and handwritten notes into a dramatic and emotional performance that embodies the artist’s personal memories.
Photos — artdaily.com

2. Avoid the question: "Is this art or not?"

It is necessary to stop wrestling with the question "Is this art or not?" Just perceive the works of artists directly. Are they interesting or not? Impressive or not? Do they make you think, excite your imagination, etc. In general, "art or not" is an irrelevant question. Once we organized an exhibition "Russian Poor" ("Russkoe bednoe") in Perm, Russia. It comprised the works of great artists, but they were created from waste materials. The first reaction of the audience was like: "That's really cool, but it is not art, because…" and then the arguments followed. However, as soon as this question was closed (how is another story altogether), the exhibition and the artists participating in it became loved.
A screenshot of the "Russian Poor" project website, http://bednoe.ru
A screenshot of the "Russian Poor" project website, http://bednoe.ru

3. Become a co-author

Let’s continue the story of the exhibition "Russian Poor": among the arguments of the thesis "why this is not art" the top spot was taken by "I can do it too". But after a while the Permyaks began to send pictures of their own "crafts," asking: "Is this art then?" This is very important, this transition from "I can do it too — it’s not art" to "I can do it too, I’m also an artist". The thing is that, unlike artists of past eras who tried to keep the distance from the public, leaving the audience only an opportunity to admire (I'm a genius, and you’re a philistine), modern artists came off the pedestal and speak to the public on an equal footing. And the main thing is that they also leave part of the creative work to the public. Therefore, the third tip in full sounds like this: become a co-author of the artist’s work, find a creative impulse in yourself. For example, many minimalistic projects presuppose the viewers' equal partnership with the artist.
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
Above: the "Russian poor" exhibition, Perm, 2008.

4. Attend mega-events

Of course, no one likes to feel like a "chump". Before, until the '60s of the 20th century, there was a clear system of criteria. It could change, but the criteria were easy to orient oneself in. Good art was either like this or like that. Where is the composition? Where’s the "golden ratio" and the like… Then suddenly all the criteria were destroyed due to frequent changes. It became possible to separate the good from the bad only by seeing the work in the context of other works, created in previous eras and by contemporaries.

Art ceased to be "criterial" and became "contextual." Criteria can be studied, and contexts — immersed into.

Therefore, my fourth tip is to start attending mega-events that exhibit a lot of art at once, in order to experience the context and feel like a connoisseur. After visiting two consecutive "Venice Biennales", one "Documenta" and a couple of fairs, you’ll feel like an expert. You will learn the authors, remember their names, compare and evaluate.
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
Above: expositions Art Basel Hong Kong — 2015, photo (c)Art Basel

5. Pay attention to the background

I’ll tell you about one sketch
A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
by the artist Dmitry Gutov, which, it seems to me, can help someone to love contemporary art. Do you remember the lines to the shroud of Jesus in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior (Ed. Note: in 2016 in Moscow)? By and large, it’s an old dirty rag. But there is a powerful true story behind it. That is, the artifact itself and its aesthetic properties are not important. What’s really important is the background. People will stand in the queue all night long, kiss the rag, and immerse themselves in the euphoria from the only thought that Christ touched it. Of course, for us (those who are passionate about contemporary art), the history of art is an incredibly important part of human history. It is no less dramatic than the history of wars or the history of religions. And so it sometimes evokes admiration how the work of art changed the art itself. Thus, when we talk about Marcel Duchamp, Kazimir Malevich and Van Gogh, we constantly keep in mind what a great contribution they’ve made and how much they’ve influenced other artists.
In the photo above: "Sunflower Seeds" - installation by the famous contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. All seeds are porcelain, painted by hand in a Chinese factory. This is the visualization of China — much, even too much cheap labour. The project was first exhibited in 2010 at London’s Tate Modern (the photos shown here are taken in Jerusalem).

6. Communicate with artists

This point is important, since it’s my case. The sixth tip: you need to communicate with artists, they are very interesting. It happened so that in the theatre I first fell in love with the artists' personalities and only then — in their art. And later on, as a gallery owner, I used to say: "We work with artists, not with objects". In Montenegro, "open workshops" were arranged on Sundays: we provided the artists with workshops free of charge, on condition that they would open the doors, receive visitors and put on mini-exhibitions on Sundays. Once, one of the visitors, a German in his 60s, came to me and said: "I finally understood this contemporary art. It’s so cool!" I asked him: "Haven’t you visited museums before?" He replied: "Just on the contrary, I’ve visited them a lot but I’ve never talked to the artists."

It turns out that museums have become kind of "partitions" between the artist and the audience. So we need to communicate with the artists.
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
Photo above: the opening of the exhibition by Sergey Anufriev, Dukley European Art Community, December 2017.

7. Spend money on art

People love themselves. Almost always. Therefore, one of the ways to love is to "invest". That is why my seventh tip is to buy art. We had one client who wanted to make a gift to the museum out of a mercantile reason. I gave him a list of names of the artists whose works we were interested in, and then he could choose himself. The man for the first time in his life had to choose the art and pay real money for it. It turned out to be a difficult task, but as a result the works of the chosen artist became the beginning of his personal collection.
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
The project by Konstantin Benkovich, the exhibition "Uniform" ("Odnoobraznoe"), Dukley Gardens, 2017. The artist used steel reinforcement as a sculptural material, giving a new meaning to this symbol of aggression.

8. Of course, there is also a shortcut – education

Visiting museums from little up and so on. This tip is not interesting, since it’s quite obvious.
At the "A Bad Land but a Heroic one" exhibition by Roham Fayazi, Dukley European Art Community.
At the "A Bad Land but a Heroic one" exhibition by Roham Fayazi, Dukley European Art Community.

9. Plunge into the contemporary art world together with your beloved ones

It’s a very good idea to enjoy art together with a person who loves this art and whom you like. Kind of a Virgil!

10. Stop comparing the past and the present in art

As they say, last but not least is to stop comparing the art of the past and the present, like "back then it used to be., and now it’s…" Art belongs to time and displays it.
Loving contemporary art is loving yourself and your life.
Damien Hirst, "Calendar Stone". Photo: Miguel Medina / AFP / Getty Images, 2017
Damien Hirst, "Calendar Stone". Photo: Miguel Medina / AFP / Getty Images, 2017
Homunculus loxodontus?! "It's amazing how much modern multi-industry has taken from the ancient "hum
Homunculus loxodontus?! "It's amazing how much modern multi-industry has taken from the ancient "humanoids" of Mesopotamia and Mexico…" - Marat Guelman’s commentary on the photo he took.

"Contemporary art requires a certain level of immersion. It’s up to a person to decide how deep that


"Contemporary art requires a certain level of immersion. It’s up to a person to decide how deep that immersion would be. It’s just like travelling by plane: while some people do it without a deep understanding of mechanisms making a heavy vehicle soar in the air, for others it’s essentially important to understand how the plane works. Your question can be reformulated like this: 'Is it important to get an education?' My answer will be 'Yes, it is'."

Having received 10 tips on "How to Love Contemporary Art", we asked Marat Guelman more questions.

"Would you tell us, please, which art you were into before getting into contemporary art. You wrote that everyone started with Repin, Aivazovsky and the like. How was it with you?"

"Like all Soviet intellectuals, I loved the Impressionists. I also liked the contemporary artists' open paintings, where I could have a good look at the large brushtrokes and enjoy random spots of paint which flew straight from the tube. Then I worked in the theatre and loved, for example, Borovsky — in general, scenic artists have always been very modern, even in Soviet times."

"There is the thesis that contemporary art is the art of ideas. Do you suggest falling in love with the 'approach itself' to get carried away by the results?"

"The question is not quite relevant. Contemporary art is different. It can be the art of ideas, or the art of an action. Still, it’s important to understand the artist’s intention in order to evaluate his work. For example, some artists want to scare you, warn you against something, and you are indignant with their work: 'Why doesn’t this bring me any joy?' Someone makes a political statement and considers formalist painters to be decorators; someone, on the contrary, considers the appeal to social issues detrimental to art. It’s important to grasp the point first and then to decide whether you like it or not, whether it’s for you or not."

How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
How to love Contemporary Art: 10 tips from Marat Guelman
Above: photo from the "Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism" exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. "The curator of the exhibition — Marat Guelman — chose Oleg Kulik, Pyotr Pavlensky and Pussy Riot as the three main protagonists, each of which had a separate room …" Photo report by Marta Yaralova.

"Are there any differences in the way men and women get into contemporary art?"

"I don’t think so. Of course, there exists the term "female art", implying, for example, a passion for textiles and for needlework in general. There are also examples when female artists create feminist works. Still, there is no basis for generalization and separation."

"Is it possible to give recommendations to neophytes, giving names of some of the contemporary art creators?"

"Yes, it is. Every museum does it. Actually, the museum is an exemplary buyer. Museum artists are kind of "blue chips" (Ed. Note: the most expensive poker chips of blue colour; meaning securities of reliable large companies in the US). I may someday make a special list, but this takes much time and effort."


"Head On" (2006) is the world-famous installation by Cai Guo-Qiang. It was first presented at the So
"Head On" (2006) is the world-famous installation by Cai Guo-Qiang. It was first presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Berlin. Photo: circusporto.wordpress.com

"Can you tell us why some contemporary artists become more famous and expensive than others, although their works arouse in the mass audience the same vague feeling of 'the emperor’s new clothes'?"

"This question is ignorant. It’s like you in advance, without giving the names, say: your system of examination is of no value. When 30 years ago I first saw the works of Kabakov, which was already appreciated by art critics and collectors, and considered those works to be far from art, I doubted myself instead of saying 'the emperor’s new clothes'. Actually, this doubt became the beginning of my professional life.

If we talk about the prices of the artists' works in the global market, they are either determined by their place in the history of art, or, in case of artists in the middle of their career — the chances to get into that history. This is where the nuances begin. Why, for example, is the price of the works by pop art artists (Warhol, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, etc.) higher than of those by the Arte Povera artists (Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jannis Kounellis), although their place in the history of art is more or less equivalent? That’s because in the 60's the United States experienced strong economic growth, and Italy — the crisis. This does not apply to artists who do not claim a place in the history of art: for them, the market is simpler and associated with interior design. That’s where the prices come from."
"What about the consequences of the Iron Curtain (isolation affected all spheres of art): do you consider possible the mass breakthrough 'through the generations', from the total encouragement of realism to juggling modern ideas in their different expressions?"

"There is no lag in the humanitarian sphere. On the one hand, every new creator, wherever they live, can appropriate everything created before them. Another issue is that there is a problem of the generation that studied during the Soviet period and works in the post-Soviet period. And this is not a lag, hanging, like a sword of Damocles, over every person from the Eastern Bloc, but a generational problem. By the way, the latter, in the case of the Leipzig School or the Ukrainian trans-avant-garde, on the contrary, became the source of its own path."

"Modern art is inseparable from the context, and our age of discrete information blocks (people quickly switch over to other things) does not allow us to delve into the full history of the object. How is this problem solved? Will there be some 'third dimension', a new format in art?"

"As I’ve said, the contexts are not studied, they are immersed into. Therefore, mega-projects are so popular, where you can see a lot of works by many artists of the same period. That is, the usual concept of the history of art is the concept of the library; and here you are offered a cultural landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
where you can see everything at once."
Still, the artist must understand that before modern viewers or connoisseurs begin to perceive the art carefully and correctly, they should get interested enough not to pass by the artwork.
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The photos in the material, except for the specially signed ones, are from the Facebook page of Marat Guelman.