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'A crisis is always a good time to unite': Russian art galleries form new alliance to boost industry

The Association of Galleries aims to simplify the country's customs procedures and secure government funding

The board of the newly formed Association of Galleries (AGA) in Russia Courtesy of Association of Galleries (AGA)

A group of Russia’s contemporary art galleries have teamed up to form an association that aims to simplify the country’s notoriously tricky customs processes and boost the market with the help of some government funding.

The Association of Galleries (AGA) was formed on 26 October by 16 galleries in order to “represent the interests of the industry” by working with the government to simplify the import and export of art, among other things. The AGA is backed by the Winzavod Fund for the Support of Contemporary Art and built on five principles: openness, professionalism, market transparency, friendly competition, and partnership.

“A crisis is always a good time to unite,” says Winzavod’s founder Sofia Trotsenko who came up with the idea for the AGA. “The aim is to support contemporary art, ensure the growth of the market, and develop collecting practises.”

Russia’s notorious bureaucracy can make shipping art in and out of the country difficult. “We want to make the temporary import regime less complicated, shape the definition of contemporary art for customs legislation and get discounted rates for transporting contemporary art,” says Alexander Sharov, the founder of 11.12 Gallery. He sits on the AGA’s board with Trotsenko and five other gallery owners including Ksenia Podoynitsyna (founder of Gallery 21 and InArt) and Emelyan Zakharov (the co-owner of Triumph Gallery).

The non-profit association also wants to get government funding for its members, such as reimbursing commercial galleries’ expenses for art fairs, while all information relating to these initiatives will be stored on an easily accessible online database. Helping galleries to build partnerships with both Russian and international cultural institutions is another goal. “I’m hopeful that the AGA will make an important and tangible contribution to contemporary art,” says Vasily Tsereteli, the director of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (Moma).

Surprisingly, contemporary art sales in Russia grew by 4% from January to October compared to the same period last year according to figures compiled by Podoynitsyna's company, InArt Analytics. “So far sales have totalled €7.8m in 2020, including auction results and sales at the Cosmoscow fair, which is encouraging to see, especially in light of all the tests we’ve faced this year,” Podoynitsyna says.

Contemporary art galleries across the country are being invited to join the AGA. They must have a physical exhibition space and pay a £900 annual membership fee, which entitles them to PR support, grants, legal advice, and other benefits.