20 Oct Mikhail Vasilenko: “A huge advantage of working with my brother is an absolute confidence between us”
Mikhail Vasilenko told us about work in art market, pleasure, strong family bonds and great business plans.
Mikhail, do you consider yourself a successful player of the art market?
I guess so. My work brings me pleasure and profit.
I have no doubts about that. But was it a story of success from the very beginning?
Not exactly. I and my brother conducted our first auction in 2005, and I wouldn’t call it a success. At that time I was 21, Aleksey – 22. We had neither experience in organization, nor had the base of collectors. It was the desire for creation and devotion to art what we had – the things our father–collector instilled in us since childhood.
In general, we lost a lot of money in our first spring auction, but gained great experience. We managed to sell only four paintings at that auction. Though, all our losses were compensated by decent post-auction sales. Thanks to our first auction we gained excellent experience in organization and won many clients, met a number of private dealers. After that came success: we reviewed our mistakes and the same year, in autumn 2005, we conducted our second auction, where we were able to sell up to 40% of lots. This is how we entrenched in the market and occupied our position in the niche of Soviet art – which was our main area in the first years of work. Now “Golden Section” specializes in several different fields – from classic art and collection icons to contemporary art, design and photography.
So whose idea was founding an auction house?
As I already mentioned, thanks to our father we were into art since childhood. So we constantly and attentively watched the market, kept an eye on what was happening there. I browsed auction results and catalogues on a regular basis, for the first time in my life attended auctions. For example, I was impressed by the auctions held by Alexander Bray on the Andriyivskyy Descent in 2003-2004. It was the time I realized that art market is alive, but quite discreet – galleries work privately, almost secretly. At that moment most market players were working with antiques, there were only few galleries of contemporary art. But I wasn’t attracted by gallery business as I wanted to work with wider range of art. So this is basically how I came up with idea of an auction house.
Do family relations hinder your work?
Although I and my brother have been close since childhood, we had to get used to each other during our first years of work. The thing is that we are very different people. But this helps us in our work – each of us has his own professional strengths. I am more competent in classic and contemporary art. Aleksey likes contemporary art too. But also he knows very well industrial design and photography. Though, currently our fields of work are not quite detached, we work together all the time – but we estimate art differently, each in his own way. This helps us pick items for auctions.
In addition Aleksey is responsible for the creative part. Each time we enjoy planning our events, discussing them and finding innovative decisions for implementation. I mean performances on openings, design of the catalogues etc. A huge advantage of working with my brother is an absolute confidence between us.
How do you and Aleksey see development of your auction house in 5-10 years?
Evolution is a must in any kind of business, or decrease is inevitable. As for us, we consider developing online business. There is no reason to do many things “in real life”, since they’re very expensive and troublesome. At the same time, these things are much more easy and convenient online, as audience, interests and number of items are broader.
The only problem is that it’s hard to sell online really expensive pieces of art. Clients still don’t trust Internet auctions. But this is the matter of time and technology that has our constant attention.
Let’s go back to offline auctions. Who are your favorite artists? Is it hard for a painting to become a lot in your auction?
No, it’s not hard at all, if its author is talented. We used to work only with galleries and dealers, but now we also work directly with artists. At the same time we are deeply interested in contemporary art. Should we mention that it’s rare for Ukrainian auction houses? We came to this decision in 2009, when we felt that the market of Soviet classic art slowly started deteriorating. So we had to find an alternative. My university friend Olya Balashova introduced us to contemporary art. And we thank her heartily for that. We understood that classic and contemporary art are completely different, interesting worlds and art markets, whose collectors and dealers have nothing in common. In general, currently we work both with classic and contemporary art and consider our approach to be right and flexible. Prices for pieces of classic art in average are higher, and a number of collectors is wider. Another thing that matter is a large network of private dealers specialized in classic art and antiques. But this market in many ways depends on economic situation in the country. It’s different with contemporary art. A lot of people can afford pieces of contemporary art, as prices for them are not very high and the range of works is rather wide. Furthermore, we enjoy discovering young talents who later become real celebrities.
Do you have any favorite young artists?
Yes, of course. We even used to keep statistics of best-selling and popular artists. Our favorites were Oleg Suslenko, Aliona Naumenko, Nikita Kravtsov, Artem Volokitin. And now it’s Mykhailo Dejak, whose pieces we successfully sell at our auctions.
Can young Ukrainian art compete with European? Is there any difference between them?
Of course, it can. Especially in prices. As to its artistic value, Ukrainian art is quite competitive too – there are many talents in our country. And yes, Ukrainian art is different from European. To me, events in Ukraine influence our artists a lot, and, as a result, influence their works. As we know, Ukraine goes through quite tough times, nevertheless local artists are patriotic and optimistic.
The most important competitive advantage of European and US artists compared to Ukrainian is stability. Ukrainian authors often don’t know what tomorrow will bring them. In Europe, if an artist “belongs” to a particular gallery, he/she has a strict plan of participation in exhibitions for years ahead. And the only thing that bothers him/her is art. At the same time, in Ukraine artists spend a lot of time to promote and sell their works. I have an advice for artists: find yourself a decent art manager, who will take care of sales, contracts and participation in exhibitions.
You and Aleksey are also collectors. How many works do you have in your collections? What rare pieces of art do you have?
I collect contemporary art, mostly works of young artists that I find promising. My collection consists of 300 pieces, while Aleksey’s collection is a little smaller. Many works of famous artists belong to both of us. As their prices are high, we bought them together. Now they constitute our common collection.
Can you tell us about your biggest failure and biggest success in purchasing art?
I don’t remember any big failures, as usually I buy only what I like. I never regret spending a lot of money for a piece of art, but I regret when I fail to buy a painting for this or that reason and another collector gets it. My biggest success is a collection of Mykhailo Dejak’s works that I gathered in 8 years, as well as an Andy Warhol’s piece.