Interview with collectors Irina and Alexander Lvovsky

Interview with collectors Irina and Alexander Lvovsky

"We’re creating our own world, we live in it and we can no longer live without it. And when we choose an artwork (or it chooses us) we base our decision on a feeling and a hope that it will make our world more emotional, more exciting, probably even more tense. But always more interesting"

Tell us about your education
I come from the family of intelligentsia where everyone had a technical education, I wasn’t an exception. I graduated from the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. For some time I worked at the All-Union Aluminum-Magnesium Institute.

From a young age, museums, theater, and music have always been in my life. But I didn't know anything about the modern artistic life of the city, about unofficial artists, their artworks of that time. Unfortunately, in the years of my youth, there were no people in my environment who would’ve suggested, or maybe just brought me to an apartment exhibition, for example, or to an exhibition organized by the Association of Experimental Exhibitions, and later by the Association of Experimental Fine Arts. Turns out, in the 74th, in December, there were long queues for the first officially authorized exhibition of underground artists in the Gas Recreation Center, a year later - in DK Nevsky. And where was I?! What roads did I walk? I could definitely stand in this queues, I knew the cafe on Nevsky, it went down in the history of St. Petersburg culture called "Saigon". Sometimes I even drank coffee there, but the people hanging out there took me as something alien-ish and incomprehensible. Yes, there was a lively, interesting artistic life, but I didn't even know about it.

When did your love towards art start?

So a new era of the late 80s- early 90s has come. Life around gradually revived. Russian Russian Art of the XVIII - early XX centuries from private collections in Leningrad began to host very interesting exhibitions in the Central Exhibition Hall "Manege", in 1986 — from the funds of the Russian Museum. Painting, decorative and applied art; in 1988 - Russian theatrical and decorative art from the collection of Nikita and Nina Lobanov-Rostovsky. I remember that these exhibitions made a huge impression on me, especially an exhibition from private collections. I think it was because I saw not the usual museum works, but a slightly different cut, more intimate, more personal. It's strange, but I just thought that it was at these exhibitions that I first encountered private collecting. No, of course, there were Pavel Tretyakov, Sergey Shchukin, Ivan Morozov, and Catherine II, but here, in front of my eyes was the gathering of people living now. Yes, and here he is, tall and handsome Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky walks through the halls of the Arena and explains and shows something. Another meeting with collecting took place in the same years (unfortunately, I don't remember exactly) in the Great Philharmonic Hall, where a big poetry evening was held, and in the foyer works from the collection of collector Solomon Shuster were hung. I remember beautiful paintings by Niko Pirosmani, Alexander Tyshler, etc.

In 1987 or 1988, a posthumous exhibition of the sculptor Vadim Sidur was arranged in the exhibition hall of the Union of Artists on Okhta. And in 1989, in the exhibition hall at 57 Liteyny, the Soviet Cultural Foundation organized an exhibition of Anatoly Zverev, for the first time I saw his work with my own eyes. In 1988 an important artistic events took place – large-scale exhibitions of Pavel Filonov and Kazimir Malevich were opened in the Russian Museum, and in 1988 the Benois Family Museum was opened in Peterhof. I’m writing about this in such detail, because these new opportunities for recognition, acquaintance with the art of the 20th century significantly influenced our worldview, changed us, our views and, ultimately, influenced our taste, "watching", the experience of interacting with art.

Completely new impressions waited for me in completely unexpected places: the Leningrad Youth Palace (LDM) (1985), the Kirov Palace of Culture (1985) and LENEXPO (1987). We’re talking about exhibitions of Leningrad underground artists who are members of the Association of Experimental Fine Arts (TEII), that is, artists who are not members of any official organizations, namely the Leningrad branch of the Union of Artists (LOSH). That's when it opened (or rather, slightly opened) the world of unofficial artistic life of the city. Probably, then I had a genuine interest in modern artistic life and an unconscious decision to collect works of fine art. I actually started to collect only 10 years later though.

How did your collection begin, what was the first work?

Art galleries appeared in the city. For example, my favorite gallery D-137, where I tried not to miss a single exhibition, and others that I went to. And then one day, in 1996, we went to the Writers' Bookstore on Nevsky Prospekt. There was an exhibition and sale of paintings and graphics. That's where we bought our first piece of art, we just couldn't leave without it. It was a watercolor thing by Rezo Gabriadze "Yashka the pharmacist". And all these years, for 25 years now, I have been looking at it with the same joy and pleasure. A few years later, on a tourist trip, I found myself in the same group with the famous St Petersburg collector Nikolay Blagodatov, the daughter of the famous bibliophile Mikhail Fishelev, the famous literary critic, collector and bibliophile Boris Frezinsky, these meetings finally led me to collecting. However, some other factors had to coincide, as they say, the match of time and place. We have not only the desire to collect, but we also want new walls and opportunities. Now our hobbies are divided into two areas: the first is painting, graphics; the second is an illustrated book and an artist's book — 
The walls and shelves have become very bad but the desire will always be there now. And yet - I avoid the word "collecting" on purpose because it seems to me that collecting means a more systematic approach to the selection of artworks than ours (rather, there is more consistency in our book collecting).

                        Rezo Gabriadze. Yasha the Pharmacist. 1980, watercolor, paper, 29 x 29 cm

How are artists selected for the collection? What brings your entire collection together?
How we choose things is a question that is difficult to answer. In my opinion, we don’t choose artists, but artists choose us. We’re creating our own world, we live in it and we can no longer live without it. And when we choose an artwork (or it chooses us) we base our decision on a feeling and a hope that it will make our world more emotional, more exciting, probably even more tense. But always more interesting. Therefore, it seems to me that our collection is united more by our emotional rather than rational choice, the emotional excitement that we experience when we choose a work of art. And if this emotional excitement doesn’t go away over the years, if we look at the paintings and cannot tear ourselves away, and the longer we look the deeper we dive into their world, then for us, but I highlight, for us, the choice was right.

Paintings from what cities and counties of origin do you mostly have?

Basically, we collect works by St. Petersburg artists, but there are also Moscow painters (well to be fair, the first art work, as mentioned above, is maden by a Georgian artist).

What are the ways you choose the artists for your collection? Are they mostly your friends?

Acquaintance with the creative life of St Petersburg presented us a lot of meetings with the wonderful artists of our city. I can't say that we’re friends, we just know a lot of people and have good friendly relations with many of them. But we were friends with two, already, unfortunately, passed great artists…

Georgy Vasilyevich (Gaga) Kovenchuk was an amazing, bright, inquisitive, noticing and noticing everything person who left a lot of subtle, sad and funny stories, amazing notebooks of sketches, a lot of videos and other various fixations of life moments. Gaga Kovenchuk was a tireless storyteller, it was very interesting with him, his drawings could be viewed for hours, his stories could be listened to endlessly. A whole epoch has gone with him.

And Mikhail Karasik, Misha, our beloved person. An artist, thinker, intellectual, devoted to the development of the genre "The Artist's Book", devoted to one technique - lithography - all his creative life, devoted to art. We cannot accept that he’s no longer with us.

Georgy Kovenchuk. A restaurant in Kansas. 1999, watercolor, paper, 34 x 27 cm