Kazakhstan Contemporary Art Gallery

Kazakhstan, as well as an artist, needs a brand

Business & Vlast newspaper 30.10.2015 Text: Dina Duspulova

In an interview with Serik Seydumanov, the deputy of Parliament of Kazakhstan, ex-vice Mayor of Almaty city, an art expert Dina Duspulova raises the question of a possible scenario for development of the fine arts’ market in Kazakhstan and how to create favorable conditions for its building.

 Mr. Seidumanov, the global trends in culture and art are such, that in many economies, the creative industries have become a significant, and in the UK, a leading sector. Since 1998, being a priority of the British national policy, they bring to the country 77 billion dollars annually. Not Paris, but London today is called the cultural capital of the world. Why doesn’t the new economic status of the art industry, considered in the developed countries as a potential for the economic growth, facilitate the creation of this sector in Kazakhstan?

 You talk about the developed countries, and we are a developing economy, moved to the level of medium developed country, which has its own regularities. Now we are in the middle-income trap (12-15 thousand dollars per capita): in the first place people have a satisfaction of needs for good housing, good car, clothes. At this time, culture is in the second place. There are general world regularities of development of the countries. Though in general, as a country, we are at the middle-income level, it is an economically difficult period now, which means that it is once again rolled back a bit. During the crisis, first of all, the majority of the population thinks about primary needs. Once the position is aligned, there is a growth, more people start going to the cinema, theater, and appreciate works of art. Kazakhstan will come by then, when works of art would mean higher than bread, but now we need bread more, even for the middle class. As for the upper class, it is quite narrow, still going through formation.

 And what about the Asian art market? In China, India, art has served as a stimulus, a catalyst for the economic development?

 China is a different country. There is a party system. They have had a rich layer of people, who should invest; they were given the order and they do it. We have a different system: a direct appeal, slogans do not work with us.

 We also have a rich layer, who should invest in art. In China this policy within the country is the state. Another model works in India; the process there was started from the outside. The Indian art was promoted by Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses, and early buyers were from different parts of the world. When the Indian millionaires saw foreigners buying up the Indian artists, they started investing, the boom began, prices skyrocketed. Now the art market in India, along with China, is one of the most actively developing.

 There is stable middle class in these countries. Yes, the average gross income per capita in China is very low, but GDP and total of middle class in these countries is estimated in hundreds of millions, and that is it. Middle class in India is officially at 650-700 million people. In China, because of the Communist ideology, the real stratification of the population is hidden, but the account there also goes on hundreds of millions. At us, on 17 million population even if some million are of the middle class, it is an unstable indicator. Second, China’s economy has developed since 1978, that is 37 years, including five years of rapid growth. We began to gain pace in development only since 2000; we are just 15 years old. During the crisis, we are able to comprehend external and internal factors and work out the ways when not only bread, but products of culture, would be much in demand. Today, the demand is there, but it is low. Such is the objective situation.

 There is no art in Kazakhstani recognizable faces abroad. However, there is a great interest in the world in Kazakhstan as a whole, to its history and culture and what happens to us now. Given that the global art scene is in need of new faces, it is a good chance for our artists. Could you imagine the conditions which would increase the popularity of the Kazakhstani art in the world?

 Conditions have already started ripening, there is an understanding and the experts. Another thing is that some things are holding back. It is educating a new generation of specialists and nation branding. It is not just about the artists. Kazakhstan, like an artist, needs a new brand. That is why the Leader of the nation suggested to call the republic the Country of the Great Steppe. For this purpose, there is a special policy of branding. Turkey, for example, is following this way and now there has appeared a lot. We started going this way too. In the textile industry, instead of former Almaty Cotton Plant the new names appeared: Kaumenova, Zibro firm and others. The same process of branding has to go into the sphere of culture too. You remember how Kalmykov, the artist, was promoted? He is a gifted artist and today is one of our classics, but in due time Kalmykov was not considered a classic, and through branding he became recognizable, and in demand. Second, we have not yet entered the English-speaking world. Generally, we still live in the Russian-speaking world. And when we get the English-speaking space, we will work at a global PR technology. Why, do you think, for example, there is material about Kazakhstani sport on the Euronews TVchannel? – We are looking for channels for PR actions abroad.

 The language of art is the best channel, it is understandable with no words. Nation branding is best done through the fine art.

 I agree, but the current generation of art critics do not speak English; our specialists and society as a whole are not yet ready. Understanding has only a narrow circle, such specialists can be counted on the fingers of a hand, but there is still no critical mass of people who can carry out such actions. To be recognizable in the world, we need a person, who would be able to break through the wall and do it professionally. Within the country I understand these processes well, but I don't know how they work in the world. To go global, it is necessary that the person is capable, gained technology and knowledge . That person could be, for example, you.

Thank you. We can do more together. Kazakhstani artists do not position themselves as a part of the global art process. Many artists understand the need to change something, but in attempt to combine two in one, either art or commerce is behind. Every well-known artist has his own "support group", which makes him a brand name of a star and uses all the rules of commerce in brand making. Why the small enterprises in art industry are not considered to be a future engine of the Kazakhstani economy, like in the UK?

 Because the country has not developed innovative practice. Do we have a few gold heads? Talk is not just about the artists, let us take the inventors: how much do we have implemented in the economy, whether a lot of plants we created on the basis of their inventions? It is our weak spot. We can invent the most clever things, but they would all remain nameless, not implemented...

 Because behind an artist, for example, there is not an art manager, who would be engaged in commercialization of his work.

 Very true, there is no system of commercialization. We are just taking our first steps; the first people emerge. You have raised a very good question, but it depends on our society’s level of development. It rests not in talents - our people are talented - but in the lack of  specialists’ management qualities. And second, lack of investment capital. These two things are missing.

Is it possible to link the legalization of income of the rich Kazakhstan citizens with investment in the domestic arts at the legislative level, just like the Chinese buy only the Chinese, and the prices for works by local authors hit all imaginable records?

 During legalization 79 billion tenge back in the country, 4 billion tenge taxes paid. It is a bit. Estimated, overseas can be up to 150 billion dollars. Even if we take half of that amount, the difference is big: 75 billion dollars and 75 billion tenge. Our task is to get money back to the country, but not link these two processes – legalization and investment in culture - with the legislation directly. If we link them at legislative level, nothing would come back, neither in the country, nor in art. But if we would find the mechanism of these billions return, they would spread across all the segments by the social laws. Thanks to regularity of spreading, the market economy and the oil money has enabled us to grow the wealth of the country. Here is too, if 75 billion dollars, or at least 20 billion dollars come back, they would spread across all the layers, and to a greater extent would automatically go into the sphere of culture, because primary and even secondary needs of the people, who took their capital abroad, have been already met. The main thing is that it got back.

 Today oil, metals, real estate prices drop. At the time of economic turmoil, art as an alternative investment, serves as a haven for money. Where, if not in the art to invest those, who want to legalize money?

 People who have big money, know where to invest. They have already invested, where it is necessary abroad, but if the part of money comes back, then to save them, they would invest in culture and art. That is the only way. No options. It is a social regularity, many countries have gone through it, and we have not yet. Another thing is to give the people security assurance that the rules of the game wouldn't change at any point and there would be no prosecution for the money. For example, I have money, I brought them into the country, and the game’s conditions have changed, and I lose both money, and freedom. If forgave you are forgiven, if legalized it is legalized. And let the person work for the country and people, and he would work if he is inside the country. Part of money would go to new production, new technology, and part to the culture.

 In the mid-90s I worked as a translator and once I got a thick book in my hands called "The Law On Art in the USA". At first I was half-hearted, but soon involved. What is the law! - it is clear, why since the 1960s, America on the volume of the art market on the first place in the world. For collectors it is just paradise, money is formed like out of air: just because a person holds a collection, there is interest, discounts for a tax and the artworks grow in price. The similar law on art in Kazakhstan would serve a refund mechanism, money back into the country. As the Parliament deputy, lobbying such a law, profitable to an investor, you would enter the Almaty history. You served in the post of the Deputy mayor for culture for many years and know the Almaty artistic environment.

Not just know, I am personally familiar with many artists, I know how they live, what they breathe, with my own eyes I saw artworks they keep in store rooms. 

 On what basis do you form your collection? How many works and how much it is estimated?

 I have a collection of paintings. It was formed due to my contact with the world of creativity. The collection implies the direction and I have a cityscape. When I was buying or I was given the pictures, they cost a little, about100-200 dollars. I never thought of the number of pictures; therefore I don't know the price. Why? They are just favorite pictures, my collection is precious to me for the soul, not for material value. Perhaps, now it has increased in price, I don't know.

 This is it! No one in the country has an idea, how much is his collection is worth. The  art in "gift" prevails in the country. It was purchased for pittance or as a gift, and pictures serve no more than just the interior decoration. What artist knows how much is his art? It is the work of an expert. The investment appeal of an artwork,  not assessed by appraiser, is zero. There are several systems of price indicators in the world. It is necessary to create an infrastructure which would be engaged in indexation of profitability of pictures of the Kazakhstani artists. And the work is not so much, since the art of Kazakhstan is just a hundred years old. Let an expert-appraiser assess the starting market price. Perhaps all of a sudden amongst the works there are masterpieces.

 I think, two or three artworks of mine are definitely masterpieces. I communicate with the people, who have art collections and you can meet masterpieces in their houses and the owner realizes the fact, but doesn't know the price. Most of them do not even suspect that the picture can cost a fortune. Sometime it happens in life history that the owner  considered a thing a knickknack, and it turned out that it costs millions. This somehow always occurs abroad, and it would be desirable for us in Kazakhstan as well. So if there is what you speak about, I would like to know the price of my pictures which I purchased for a pittance. You know, you raised such a good subject, so cards to you in hands! There are few, who think in this way, you moved up a level above the rest. You have knowledge and experience in art market questions. You are engaged in this business, therefore manage it and organize. And we, those who love and understand this business and who can be any help, are ready to lend the shoulder and come to you to help, but we would not be engaged, because we are just fans, we have another matters to do. 

 Forming of the domestic art market could become a response of Kazakhstan to the severe economic crisis of the present. The art is stable, it is the only commodity the price of which may rise after purchase. For us, like in China 10-15 years ago, there is no auction house . Today the Chinese are the most expensive artists in the world, there over hundred auction houses, more than 50 thousand sellers of art. Contemporary art is entirely promotion, and almost all prices in the art market are  "done", and today’s global art market of 80 billion dollars.

 Definitely, is promotion, and it is a huge amount of money, but there is no share of Kazakhstan after all. And what talents at us! Art is hard currency. Investing can have stability and growth, and if you sell, you would surely get profit. We have to come to this, though the countries are different, but regularities the same.

 I am sure that the members of the closed club would follow you; they would begin to enjoy. I agree, that the collection of art is a hobby and it is necessary to impart the taste, but it also has the social status. If you have a collection, you have the appropriate position and an admission upward.

 I agree with you. Let's continue this work. 

 Many thanks for the conversation.