LONDON - Dmitry Aksenov is the founder of Russian real estate business RDI and is responsible for setting up the Aksenov Family Foundation, a charity to foster cultural and social innovation. He is also chairman of the board for the viennacontemporary art fair. He is also known as a significant philanthropist and an astute art collector – here he talks to Jo Vickery of Sotheby’s about his collecting passions and charitable projects.
COLLECTOR DMITRY AKSENOV.
Joanna Vickery: Why did you decide to collect contemporary art?
Dmitry Aksenov: I had become increasingly curious about contemporary art and wanted to understand it better. I got to know some wonderful Russian artists, such as Dmitry Gutov, Oleg Kulik, Anatoly Osmolovsky and Olga Chernysheva and, through these encounters, started to form strong impressions about what contemporary art is.
At the same time, I was interested in the issues specifically surrounding contemporary Russian art. I met with Josef Backstein and studied history of culture with Marina Ilyinichna Sviderskaya, not only a great specialist on the Renaissance, but also a talented cultural commentator.
Is your collection focussed exclusively on Russian contemporary art?
In the beginning my collecting activities were solely connected with the contemporary Russian art world. However, after becoming involved with viennacontemporary art fair, my focus shifted to include art from Central and Eastern Europe. The ideas that are interesting for Russian artists are universal.
What are the parallels between Russian and Eastern European contemporary art?
Without a doubt there are parallels due to their shared history. The Soviet period immediately post-war was characterized by Eastern European cultural life being torn from an international context. So what happened beyond the Iron Curtain had only an indirect influence on what happened at a national level, while in the west, Eastern European artists were simply unknown and, as a result, undervalued both materially and for their ideas. Ideas that dominated in Eastern Europe during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and the new ideas of the younger generation of artists working today, have now become a part of world cultural heritage.
One of the great benefits of collecting contemporary art is that you can get to know the artist personally – do you prefer to buy works by artists you know?
Not necessarily, but I really do love direct contact with the artists. If you don’t understand their ideas it is difficult to appreciate the strength of their work. It is interesting from a psychological and cultural perspective to speak to the ‘author’ of the work. That said, I recently bought a work by Pavel Pepperstein, and his father Victor Pivovarov and, although I don't know them personally, I know their work and understand their cultural significance.
VALERY CHTAK, GROUP OF OBJECTS, 2010. AKSENOV FAMILY FOUNDATION COLLECTION.
The viennacontemporary art fair of which you are chairman has become established over the last few years. Has it met with your expectations?
Four years ago I embarked on an adventure and did not know what I was getting myself into. But I like it: first the fair is beautiful, and, secondly, I see we have achieved such a lot.
What kind of works do you collect? Is there a particular media you prefer?
I don't limit myself in anyway – the main criterion is always that the artist is good. I collect installations, sculptures, photography and paintings, although I probably own more paintings than anything else. I have about 200 works covering 90 artists. I have it in the office, at home, but I also now have to use storage.
Which work do you have hanging in your office?
I change what is hung a lot, so you cannot say that just because a work hangs somewhere prominent it means I like it more than others. I like Olga Chernysheva, Dmity Gutov, Valery Koshlyakov, Igor Shelkovsky, but with so many artists in my collection I could name many.
LEAD IMAGE: NOWAK MARZENA, UNTITLED, 2011. AKSENOV FAMILY FOUNDATION COLLECTION.