19.03.2018 New Russian law recognises contemporary art as art

19.03.2018 New Russian law recognises contemporary art as art

Previously, valuable works of art created fewer than 50 years ago were officially treated as ‘luxury goods’ and subject to 30% import dues. The prohibitive legislation, created after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in order to prevent the mass exportation of cultural properties, made it almost impossible to import art; levying large tariffs on important works of art and offering no re-export guarantees to private collectors. The restrictive legislation was also the main reason why there were no collectors and no auctions in Russia.

On 29 January 2018, as part of a radical revision of Russian art import-export regulations, with the aim of opening up the Russian art scene to the world, Russian government adopted a new law and recognised contemporary art as art.

Ultra-rich Russians with an interest in art were the ones who may have played the most important role in bringing this policy change and they would benefit the most from the amendment. Thus, the comments made by Leonid Mikhelson, natural gas billionaire and the founder of contemporary art foundation V-A-C, at a 2016 forum on the regulation of the art market deemed to have had a significant impact on the state cultural officials’ decision to urgently implement a new law. Under the previous law, Mikhelson, who is currently transforming a former power plant near the Kremlin, into a 20,000 sq. m contemporary art museum, costing around $300m, would not be able to open a museum. Teresa Iarocci Mavica, the Italian director of V-A-C, said that “[the new law] is something that will change the way [the foundation is] working”.

Owing to the old prohibitive legislation, Russians have tended to base their private collections in Europe. Many of the billionaire founders of private art museums in Moscow who have financed projects supporting emerging Russian artists, in addition to showing contemporary art from the West, have had to find ways around the previous law in recent years, such as importing works for display via state institutions, such as Rosizo, the exhibitions arm of the ministry of culture, or state museums.

Yulia Petrova, the director of the Museum of Russian Impressionism in Moscow, founded by the billionaire Boris Mints, said that under the previous law it was impossible to bring works from private collections and foreign museums to Russia or to organise independently an exhibition of Russian art from Mints’s collection abroad. However, this will be possible under the new law, which recognises that state and private museums conduct the same activity.

Anton Belov, the director of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art said ‘We will now be able to import art ourselves. It will be much easier, cheaper and all the papers will be in our name. I really hope that, from this moment, it starts to work in a normal way, like everywhere else in the world’. Beloy believes that the new law will benefit contemporary Russian art, by enabling it to integrate with the international art scene.

Margarita Pushkina, the founder of Cosmoscow, Russia’s main and only exclusively contemporary art fair, is confident that the new law will strengthen the contemporary art scene, as the growing number of wealthy collectors turning to contemporary art is stimulating the sector as a whole. The new law, she said, means that ‘museum-level collections can now be kept in Russia. This is an important liberalisation; collectors can now show their art in state museums.’