Pierre-Christian Brochet's collection
Authors: Marina Antsiperova, Nadya Marchenko
Photos: Olga Malceva
19 September, 2022
On September 21, the HSE ART Gallery will open the exhibition "Screen Arts: Roll Call," curated by Pierre-Christian Brochet, a prominent contemporary art collector in Russia. The exhibition will feature works by Sergei Shutov and Andrius Venclov, Timur Novikov and Olga Torbeluts, as well as recordings of Pirate Television.
In a recent interview with our editor-in-chief, Marina Antsiperova, Brochet shared his perspective on selling a part of his collection, emphasizing the importance of the collector over the curator. With over 700 pieces in his collection, Antsiperova also asked Brochet where he keeps all of his art objects.
CAN YOU PROVIDE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE “SCREEN ARTS: ROLL CALL” EXHIBITION TAKING PLACE ON SEPTEMBER 21ST, FEATURING CONTEMPORARY VIDEO ART FROM ARTISTS AND STUDENTS OF THE HSE SCHOOL OF DESIGN?
The purpose of the exhibition is to showcase current developments in video and computer technologies. The origin of the exhibition dates back to the late 80s, when I was impressed by the video art projects in St. Petersburg. This city is the nucleus of video art in Russia, and the entrance of the exhibition will pay tribute to its significance. In the early 90s, "Pirate TV" emerged, and artists produced peculiar videos.
The exhibition poses the question: "How do past masters influence contemporary artists?" I find it fascinating to observe these connections, and my collection reflects this interest. We categorized artists in this field into three groups: pioneers, young classics, and students. The main themes of the exhibition are the body, society, and idea, which are constantly present in contemporary video art. The body is represented from the navel to self-portraiture, society is depicted through communication, and the idea relates to the philosophical questions of art. This is particularly crucial for students, as many are unaware of what transpired in the USSR during the second half of the 1980s. It is essential to present video from a fresh perspective, and I am not the kind of curator who prioritizes words over art. Art is a visual and emotional experience. This project will vividly illustrate the historical context and why artists utilize cameras to create video art.
DID YOU WATCH PIRATE TELEVISION AT THE TIME IT WAS COMING OUT?
I saw these videos when they reached me in Moscow like hot cakes, almost immediately, because in the 90th year I already knew Timur Novikov, Africa and Monroe.
HOW DID YOU RECEIVE THESE VIDEOS BACK THEN?
First, in the late 80s and early 90s, we felt that some changes were being prepared. Those with whom I spoke then were young advanced people who were absolutely not afraid of anything. They had great projects. The Moscow art group Champions of the World, for example, wanted to change the direction of the rivers in which they flow. It was an artistic gesture that said that anything is possible. And it really felt like that.
WHAT ATMOSPHERE THIS MOVEMENT HAD? WAS IT SERIOUS OR WAS IT A JOKE?
The atmosphere of the movement was one of limitless possibility and excitement. The prevailing sentiment was "What will stop us?"— to which the answer was "Nothing!" A sense of revolution and the prospect of a new world permeated the air. People were able to travel and explore new countries, and engage in activities that had never been possible before.
In St. Petersburg, there was a dandyish style that prevailed. Everyone was stylish and well-groomed, with Guryanov resembling Oscar Wilde in his sartorial choices. He was a true gentleman and a member of the Kino group. The feeling was that there was a bright future ahead, and everything was off to a great start. Despite the Kino group no longer existing by the time I arrived in the USSR, the sense of vitality and energy that existed there was unparalleled in Europe. This was partly what convinced me to stay in Russia.
YOU SAID MANY STUDENTS DO NOT KNOW THE PRESENTED WORKS. DO YOU FEEL THAT THE GENERATION OF ARTISTS OF THE 90S AND 00S IS FORGOTTEN AND EXISTS SEPARATELY FROM THE THINGS HAPPENING NOW?
I don't think so. It seems to me that they are all 100% history. Many of them are in museums, but they are not always shown. For instance, the Tretyakov Gallery recently showcased works such as Kostya Zvezdochetov's Refrigerator and Monroe's Life of the Remarkable Monroes.
However, it can be challenging to fully grasp the range of works produced during that period. For instance, Timur Novikov's innovative landscape sensations, which involve adding one or two elements to fabric pieces to create a picture, or Monroe's multi-faceted practice involving painting, performance, and singing. Moreover, there were also the necrorealists in St. Petersburg, who created works depicting a decaying world, as opposed to the optimistic visions of Novikov, Monroe, and Guryanov, who portrayed the world as transforming into new academies like "Tractor Driver" or "Disco Thrower." These were some of the distinctive characteristics of the Saint-Petersburg art scene during that time. In Moscow, there are also notable artists like AES+F, who appeared on the art scene a bit later, the "World Champions," and Pepperstein, who was a part of the "Inspection" Medical Hermeneutics art group alongside Anufriev.
Everyone felt that the Iron Curtain was about to fall, that it had already become transparent, like a mesh that allowed the influence of the West to pass through. Nevertheless, the entire context of the West was interpreted on the spot as absolutely Russian post-Soviet art. Those who say that this is a repetition are completely mistaken.
When I arrived in Russia, Kabakov, Komar and Melamid had already left before 1988. This was, in part, a tragedy for many artists. Kostya Zvezdochetov once told me that dad had abandoned us. Indeed, Kabakov simply left and freed himself. It is understandable why they all left. To say that there was any one direction is incorrect. It is important to appreciate a variety of art at that time. However, after 93-94, when all these squabbles took place, the variety disappeared. Western interest in Gorbachev and the possible emergence of a new democratic Russia was lost. Then in Europe, they talked about Russia only as bandits and mafia. The interest of foreign collectors and curators in Russian art completely disappeared. Artists began to feel abandoned and unnecessary. Some of them retired from creativity, some opened restaurants, and others engaged in advertising, like Mironenko and Abramishvili. And some, like Osmolovsky or Kulik, started making performances because there was nothing else to sell. The only expression in art at that time was through actions. In the late 90s, the art market reappeared, and state awards were established. The art that is collected, that is in the museum, appears only when there is a market and when there are collectors. Everything else, such as gestures, screams, and jumps, can be called whatever one wants, but it is a sign that artists always pay attention to the audience. Although it is not the general public that reacts, only a very small number of people who will simply support them react.
THE NEXT QUESTION MIGHT SOUND TOO SERIOUS FOR OUR CONVERSATION. DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE A MISSION IN RUSSIAN ART?
I believe that all serious collectors have a sense of mission at some point. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Abramtsevo and talk to Mamontov's great-grandson about his great-grandparents' patronage. In their memoirs and letters, which fill almost 500 pages, not a single word is said about money. Yet, the iconic works of Vasnetsov, such as "Flying Carpet", "Alenushka", and "Bogatyrs", were created in Abramtsevo, and Mamontov supported the entire Russian art scene of the late 19th century. The great-grandson explained that patronage is not about money, but about creating a symbiosis between a collector and an artist where both feel that they need each other. This is crucial.
Sometimes I feel pretentious saying that I'm a collector, because ultimately I am just a human being. However, I hope that one day my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will ask me about this period and why there is nothing about it in museums. I will be able to show them the works of artists that I have collected and explain that a country without culture is not a country.
Of course, this mission starts with supporting students and young artists. Through our communication with them, we can learn a new language that speaks to our time and sensations. When I buy a work from a young artist and its value increases over time, it confirms that my choice was correct. This is not just intuition, but a certainty about what is called art, and I feel it is my responsibility to support it. By investing in the future, I am making a moral and emotional contribution, where money is not the most important factor.
I TRIED TO COUNT HOW MANY TIMES YOU HAVE EXHIBITED YOUR COLLECTION AND I COULD NOT.
Not so much. Well, about 15 times. These are all very different exhibitions. There were, for example, exhibitions that I did on my birthday, they lasted one night. There was an exposition on two floors, about 100 works were shown there.
HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED AS A COLLECTOR IN THESE 30 YEARS?
I have changed a lot. I now feel a greater sense of responsibility towards the artists and the future. When starting out, there was a sense of lightness and euphoria in preserving a slice of history. I recall collecting between 1989 and 1991 when there were few of us collectors around. We served as guardians while simultaneously supporting the artists to progress. However, the reality remains that our funds pale in comparison to those of billionaires. Unfortunately, I am not a mammoth. The world has changed, and so have the artists. They seem to focus more on fame, money, and career prospects. Most have an unquenchable desire to discuss their work, but I find it irksome when an artist explains how brilliant their work is, yet it remains incomprehensible. I'm sad that many artists have confused their roles. If they think, write and speak well, then they should become philosophers or writers. Visual language is just that, a visual language. I even find artists who cannot explain why they create their works intriguing. It demonstrates that the inner possibilities lead to such visual forms, which is, in my opinion, the most amazing aspect of it all.
I ALSO HAVE A COLLECTOR'S GENE, AND I REMEMBER AT THIRTY YEARS OLD, MY COLLECTIONS WERE NOT AS LARGE AS THEY ARE NOW. FOR EXAMPLE, SOMETIMES MY COLLECTION WOULD ONLY GROW TO 70 EARRINGS. I REMEMBER IT WAS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME THAT THEY ALL WENT TO ONE PERSON. I FINALLY SOLD THEM FOR A SYMBOLIC AMOUNT TO A WOMAN IN DIFFICULTY WHO PROMISED TO TAKE CARE OF THE COLLECTION. WHEN I READ THAT YOU DID THE SAME, I UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WAS EXACTLY THE COLLECTOR'S GENE APPEARING IN US. DO YOU REGRET SELLING PART OF YOUR COLLECTION?
It happened 12 years ago when I decided to give away a block of works from the 80s to 1991 which was a part of my collection. I did not save anything from it and then I ended up in a situation where I couldn't find new works from that period. I knew they existed, and even where they were — in Belgium, France, and Switzerland, the work of the "World Champions" of that time. Unfortunately, I was unable to contact those who had them, so I just couldn't find them. However, I knew that the block was not a dead corpse, but a beautiful historical slice that I could not add to further. The person who purchased the work will probably be able to do so. At that time, I still had 350 works left, which were from 1992 to the time of the purchase, so it was not too concerning. I gave part of my life and memories of the 80s to a person who will also cherish these years. It was a win-win situation. He acquired something that he had not paid attention to while in business, but I was just focused on collecting, and we understood each other. This is a beautiful story, and I have no regrets. It gave me the opportunity to continue buying works from young artists, and many new pieces have been added to the collection since then.
IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO SHOW YOUR COLLECTION PUBLICLY?
I think it is very important to make these exhibitions. I am one of those art lovers who believe that it is very important to share the passion of collecting with the public and not be shy to show your choice. Many people say that classical art is understandable, but modern art is not. Therefore, I try to show it also in order to explain what contemporary art is.
WHEN YOU BECOME A CURATOR, YOUR BRAIN STARTS TO WORK DIFFERENTLY? DOES THE PIERRE COLLECTOR DIFFER WITH THE CURATOR?
You know, everything is very simple. I'm not really a curator in the general sense. Perhaps I am a storyteller. When we do an exhibition, or I show my collection at home, we try to tell a story. I always make it clear and inspiring. Why show things that are boring or incomprehensible? Collecting is a passion that we must convey, as in the case of Mamontov or Shchukin. And I know that you have done interviews with people who have this passion. For example, Khimilayne and Limonov. Here is such a story.
YOU SAY WITH MODESTITY THAT YOU ARE NOT A CURATOR OR A COLLECTOR, AS IF THESE ARE SOME BIG OBLIGATION WORDS. WHY IS THAT?
No, I always scold curators, because I think that they are people who are trying to take power in the art field, where, in fact, there are only two characters — the artist and the collector. And suddenly there are some curators who are trying to explain to us how to sort, present and understand it all. Listen, let me get emotions. Just the day before yesterday, my friend and I were discussing that I am a person from a generation when in the 60s and 70s there were philosophers who played a very important role for me: Lyotard, and Deleuze, and Foucault. They just at some point managed to synthesize a paradigm and create a clear definition and concept of where we are. And now all critics, curators and philosophers are engaged in some kind of nonsense. Therefore, I am a collector and I am a passionate collector.
HOW MUCH WORKS YOU HAVE, WHERE DO YOU STORE THEM?
In total, including things from the 20s, I have maybe 700-800, somewhere like that.
IS IT ALL TOGETHER, THE YOUNG ART TOO?
Yes, it's all together. The oldest things — the works of the 10s of the XX century — German expressionism. There is also a 14th year — this is Maurice Denis, a small drawing, but that’s actually nonsense. All that is really important and related to Russia after perestroika is probably about 500 works.
I IMAGINED YOU HAVE AROUND 20,000 OR 30,000 OBJECTS, AND THERE ARE VILLAS COMPLETELY FILLED WITH ART. FUNNY!
I love big things, but not that much. I have both Kulkov and Albert, just a young guy Misha Goodwin, Monroe, Shekhovtsov, Annushka up there.
YOU ARE AN ORGANIZED COLLECTOR: DO YOU MAINTAIN A CATALOG OF WORKS?
I do not always have time to do this, because most of the time I’m on my own. Now there is an assistant who helps with this. Especially when it is necessary to make exhibitions and select works, it often turns out that some things have been removed or the size is not indicated. Again, this is not essential. Fundamentally — if you get it, then try to hang it. Here Kulkov, in my opinion, was in the warehouse for 10 years, and no one saw his work until that happy moment when I pulled it out of the warehouse.
YOU HAVE A WAREHOUSE AND EVERYTHING IS STORED THERE?
I have a place where I store everything — these are 3 rooms. And all 700 items fit in them. Plus, there are a lot of paintings hanging at home and in the office.
Building museums or something like that is not my thing. I like to just show my collection in different places, and its fate further is not a question. It is clear that all these things are already museum items, since I am absolutely convinced that it is collectors who form the art of a certain period. They at least determine what remains in the future. After all, all museums are filled with works that collectors once bought. This is one hundred percent art that will represent the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century in the future. Where will it be, who will have it, in what museum? This is another question. But this question is not so important, in the end, because I will no longer be.
The process of collecting is also important: supporting the culture in which you live. If someone asks me the question “What do you advise us to do?”, then I will answer: “Take part in the process of the cultural movement, because culture is not fixed.” Now I don't like a lot of what's going on, not only these recent events, but development in general. I really hope that the art and educational work that I do is…
GOING TO WIN.
Going to win.
Authors: Marina Antsiperova, Nadya Marchenko
Photos: Olga Malceva
19 September, 2022