Kazakhstan Contemporary Art Gallery

An Art-salon a La Madame Scherer

Business & Vlast, newspaper 30.11.2012 Text: Yana Savitskaya

    Born of the cultural life in the southern capital of Kazakhstan, the Almaty Dom Mira was launched in 2003, a new non-commercial public organization. It defiantly declared itself through innovative projects in the arts in the support of peace on earth. The organizers proposed that increased interaction between artists, similar to Anna Scherer’s soirees in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, an art-salon ‘a La Madame Scherer’ would revive some of the cultural traditions of Kazakhstan and be the impetus for the rise of new creative energy in the country.

    The idea of reviving the art salons concept in Almaty was developed by Dina Duspulova and proved to be an exciting contribution to Almaty society. It was met with enthusiasm within the business circles of the city and for two years exclusive space in the five star Members Bar at the Ankara Hotel served as a meeting place for both artists and art patrons alike. From this interaction interest in art expanded rapidly. One the first fruits of this new endeavor was in the banking sector. The customer service departments of three of Kazkommertsbank divisions provided wall space to serve as traveling exhibitions for the paintings of Almaty’s new and aspiring artists. The mayor's office of Almaty also actively supported this new initiative through the organization of jazz and classical music concerts. The new business class and the artistic circles enthusiastically interacted with each other and quickly understood the mutual benefits of supporting the arts. The biggest winner, however, was the city of Almaty; life in the city became brighter and richer in culture, even during the difficult economic crisis of the time. Based on these promising results one could conclude that the experiment of merging art and business interests in Almaty was a success.

    Unfortunately, for a number of reasons this did not prove to be the case and the Almaty Dom Mira, a true patron of the arts, was suspended after two years. Despite the organizers talent, love of art and enthusiasm, they learned the hard way that a desire to assist the art community was not enough; the activities must also be commercially a success. To survive in the long-term, art producers must be able to actively carry out sales of art and equally master the complex business of art management.

    This was highly challenging in Kazakhstan because there was no one in the sphere of art to emulate and learn from. The lack of art producers meant there were no real competitors and thus no market. Historically, art management in Soviet period was not held in high esteem and strict control of the art market by the State paralyzed the initiative to such a degree that all attention was focused towards the State. In the post-Soviet period a vacuum was created that has not yet been filled by government or the private sector; to this day the art market in Almaty remains underdeveloped.

    The city was also wary to the innovation of a gathering of dreamers to approach the idea of peace through the synthesis of business and artistic creative efforts. Still, there were brave ones in the art market of Almaty who patiently watched to see if there would be an era of Renaissance in terms of change of public attitude to the arts. If this re-awakening were to happen then, perhaps, the citizens of Almaty would fill the concert halls and art exhibitions would be actively attended.

    Since then, the art scene has expanded in Almaty and both well-known artists as well as new talent began have begun to emerge. In skill and talent, the latter are often in no way inferior to their famous colleagues; sometimes it is luck. If an artist has no one to support and encourage them they remain unrecognized and unspoken for; there are not enough art producers to light the fire of their talent and allow them to become professional artists. ‘This is a serious problem of our society’ says Dina Duspulova ‘and it's time to speak aloud because Kazakh art is part of our native heritage and far more valuable than the country's natural resources like oil, gas or coal’.

    It has been said that the level of culture in a nation can be judged by its attitude to art. In this sense, Almaty is the ‘cultural barometer’ of Kazakhstan because it continues to hold the focus as Kazakhstan’s center of culture. The challenge is how to raise awareness of this talent to the public and break through the public apathy towards the music, singing, poetry, and art that is available in Almaty? Attendance at concert halls is low and art exhibitions are often empty. Perhaps some of this apathy, says Dina is ‘due to our ‘post Sovietizm’, which remains as a sad heritage from our habit of retreating standards, enforced from above in the perception of beauty. Previously we did not have the freedom of choice to determine what is considered good or bad in art. Our view was ordained in advance. As a result, the public’s ability to distinguish and perceive aesthetics atrophied. How to raise the exactingness of the aesthetic taste of public and to bring the art market of Kazakhstan to an international level?’

    Almaty is entering into a new era of prosperity and modernization and there is a new-found interest by the government in the private sector and a revival of entrepreneurial spirit among the citizenry. Since many new forums now exist for startup businessmen, perhaps it is time for the Almaty Dom Mira to re-assert itself? ‘For us patronage is a model from the past. We have learned a lot from our experiences and have returned to the art market to implement activities on the new commercial basis’ - says Dina Duspulova, the entrepreneur and art producer behind the Almaty Dom Mira center.

    The re-vitalization of the Almaty Dom Mira in 2012 began with series of art exhibitions in Al Med elite clinic and future activities will include the organization of art auctions of contemporary Kazakh artists. Although common in the West, in Kazakhstan such activities have been considered neither profitable and nor promising and as a result very few entrepreneurs want to organize meetings between artists and the potential buyers of their work. But Dina Duspulova is confident, however, that Almaty is awakening to its cultural heritage and soon the auction of art will be common throughout the country, highly profitable to both organizers and artists alike.