EK Spotlight: Russian Tearoom Gallery

Art Blog - Russian Tearoom Gallery - Empty Kingdom

Tucked away in a sideswept Parisian street, the Russian Tearoom Gallery is a fascinating space, created by Liza Fetissova to showcase the work of Russian photographers. Lush yet striking, RTR is a cleverly constructed gallery that whispers of an intimacy often lost in the barren whiteness of modern galleries. Read on for more about their vision!

(Above: Margo Ovcharenko)

So, tell me a little about the story behind the Russian Tearoom Gallery – How did it all begin?

I came to Paris 11 years ago, and I spent one more academic year doing my DESS Cultural Management in Europe (it it the 5th year diploma ). While entering, through a tough selection process , I was interviewed by a jury on what is my development plan will be, after finishing. Too concerned by a strange folkloric image of Russia in the West, I exposed that I want to « bring Russian cultural contemporary artefacts » – painting ; for exemple.

So  slowely, after graduation, I started putting my words into action, and some years after in 2008 I opened a small gallery space, presenting Russian contemporary art, focusing on photography.

Art Blog - Russian Tearoom Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Sergey Maximishin

Is there a particular vision or philosophy behind the gallery? Has it evolved, or changed over time? 

As I started, I was showing Russians, mainly photographers, as it was and still is very little known here. One year ago I moved to 200 sq m space, that permitted me to experiment. Through 4 years of previous existence I understood that I am mostly interested in photography, as a medium of XXI cenury, a medium in mutation.

So with the new space came a new approach, that is exposed through the mindmap on the wall, and through this text on the website : http://www.rtrgallery.com/html.php?lang=en&id=105

Though 6 shows since the opening, plus 2 more to come, I have been exploring this possibility of a new approach to photography.

Starting from December 2012, I plan to recenter the gallery program on Russian photography, but I will combine the solo shows with double or group shows, where Russian photographers will be ‘confronted’ to the western artists. Thus I wish to inscribe Russian artists into inernational context. I made already one show of this type, which was a big success, with Jean Philippe Charbonnier and Anatans Sutkus.

It is now easy to do, because the idea is not to confront them on some shallow basis (like genre basis), but on a VISION basis.. I have some intersting parallels already in mind, the surprises are for 2013.

Art Blog - Russian Tearoom Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Margo Ovcharenko

In focusing specifically on Russian contemporary photography, have you had any difficultly sourcing artists to display? Where do you see this particular sector of the photography world as being at the moment, and why, perhaps, do you feel it has received relatively little attention in the past? Do you believe this is changing? 

Well, Russia is a big country, but unfortunately it was stuck by certain historical events, and it narrowed its possibilities : the visibility to the Western specialists, the education gap, lobbying its intersts internationally, being concious of its capacities, – all this is lacking enourmously. We have very little amount of good photographers with a signature, with a vision. It is a very strange situation, when you think about it. Normally, in all the countries, the amount of excellent photographers, that will stay in history, is quite limited, but the process of selection, of cristillizing is long and requires a ‘critical mass’ of artists of all the levels. Thus the History is written. In Russia, from one hand, all important names are known, but… they are known only in Russia. It is a huge work to bring them to the West and to try to inscribe their names into History that is already written ! As all the seats are taken, it reqires an unhuman effort, and unfortunately my gallery is the only gallery in Europe that deals contemporary Russian photography in its wider state.

Today there is a new generation that is growing, there are surprisingly a lot of young women photographers, all serious, willing to succeed and pretty on top of that. I work with some of them – Margo Ovcharenko, Tania Leshkina, I am also following Ira Popova and Dasha Yastrebova developpement. These girls treat their subject with the Russian sensibility, but at the same time they integrate actively into Western system (moving around, receiving grants, like Margo from Fabrika, or Ira from Rijksakadem, ot they study abroad, like Tania in Chelsea College of Art).

Art Blog - Russian Tearoom Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Alex Dou

And within that particular sector of contemporary photography, are there particular styles or topics that fascinate you? Is there an underlying theme that unifies the work you choose to show? Have you found any themes that frequently appear in the works of individual photographers in this area?

Through the last year I was interested in investigating the photography possibilities. It is the medium that is the center of the research. The only requirement that I have is that the photographic work has to be solid, through which a certain vision is vehiculated. The spectator has to be struck in some part of his body : stomach, soul, heart, head, sex.

Tell me about the artists you feature. How would you characterize the relationship between you and the artists you feature? What do you see as the purpose of this relationship – dialogue, business, furtherance of art, or perhaps something else altogether?

From my point of view, photography is a very special medium within the system of contemporary art. It is unique in its freshness and honesty. Having a possibility to compare the contemporary art events (like fairs, or exhibitions) with purely photography events, while meeting people circulating in these worlds, I noticed that phtography professionals rarely talk about money, they talk about photography. And in a disintersted manner, with a lot of enthusiasm. So working with photographers is a very rich, fulfilling experience, these people are sacred. Yes, sometimes we have our differencies, but we always work it out. I do not see any purpose – as in life – is there any purpose ?. For me the idea is to overcome myself, to mount the steps of experience, to acomplish a personal growth. So working with photography, observing artists and phenomena, selecting the good work, bringing it to the public is a strong drug and sales, as one of the proofs of my correct choice, is a good reward. But it is not the purpose.

Art Blog - Russian Tearoom Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Shunsuke Ohno

Do you find art is naturally suited to business? How do you balance displaying work you absolutely love and making a profit for the gallery? Have you found that popular taste is generally in line with your own? 

I have chosen a difficult path to present mainly unknown artists from a country with no reputation on the market. There is no mercy, but many of the exhibitions I organized have met a succes, with the press, professionals and public. We are what we are, and my strong side is my ‘nose’ for good photography. I can always tell the difference. I stick to my choices, and I am not trying to adapt it to the market mood. Currently, I think, the market is overflooded by bad art and bad photography, so sticking to your quality standard is a good way to reassure the client. The market is already suffering from the concequences of the flood (everybody is a photogrpaher, everything is an image), and in the years to come we have to be vigilant and strict with our choices, because we are responsable to keep this planet clean from the photographic rubbish. Some environmental awareness will do us good.

What would you define as success for an artist? And for the gallery? Are the two necessarily aligned?

An artist can become known much quicker then the gallery. He can be ‘hot’ easily, especially if some powerful players decide to lobby his work. The gallery reputation is much more slow to construct, and it is a constant effort. If you stop for a reason, you are dead. Which is not always true for an artist, who can take some time off to create (at least it can be an ‘official’ reason for a pause).

Today, everybody mesures success by his own standards. Today, all notions are mixed up, and money can be not only a possibility to fulfill your desires, but also a prison.

For me, the ideal success situation is a possibility to work as I wish, assuming my choices, and to have enough money to continue doing this.

Art Blog - Russian Tearoom Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Sergey Maximishin

And what do you think makes a good art exhibition? Are there any in particular that stand out in your mind as truly amazing?

The truly good exhibition is an exhibition where there is tension. Like in a work of art. It is a very subtle thing to create.

My two favourite ones are : the one with Nan Goldin in Louvre, made by Patrice Chéreau (beautiful and powerful tension betwenn her photographs and the paintings of masters from Louvre’s storage) and also « Mutating Medium. Photography in Czech Art 1990-2010» in Rudolfinum in Prague (intelligent solution for a complicated  compilation, educating and amazing).

Do you see any trends currently evolving within the art world? Has the introduction of the internet affected this in any way? 

As I said before, the big ‘trend’ is to mix up things. The points of reference are blurred. And Internet is playing a huge role, as a device to ease the circulation of images, but at the same time of circulation of ALL the images. And at the same time we get so much used to the easyness of picking up the images, that they are loosing their value,  at a certain point. That’s why, I think, the print, its technical (maybe unique) characteristiques are very imporant.

Also, the artists are searching for another language and another way of presenting their work.

I am monitoring these new trends, today the artists have a difficult task to bend the espace and time. Many of the funky trends, like Google views based, stay just fucky, to my mind, and strangely do not stand very well the passage from their initial pixel existence to a physical print form (when you see the print, the tension is gone). But it a normal process of a new era, and photography have developped a fantastic imagery through its history, much of it can be picked up only from books, which makes it unexistanct to the new generation. We need to look through all these old catalogues and books. I am always astonished how much things have been made, but we never see them, because the prints have either never existed, or are very little shown to the public. It will be good to have this huge international catalogue of photographic masterpieces, where not only Amercian artists are present. (the best nation in its lobbying process).

Art Blog - Russian Tearoom Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Margo Ovcharenko

What do you think about the explosion of art critics and blogs (like us!) that have found a voice online? Does it have a significant effect, if any?

I think that the more people are expressing themselves for a good reason, the better it is. Blogs are also my  source of information, it is a working tool. So thank you for existing.

And do you have any new artists or shows coming up that you could tell us a little about?

In September I am showing Fernando Brito work, on the victims of gang wars. When I saw one print while portfolio reviewing in Houston this year, I was struck. He is a photojournalist, not an artist, but he suceeded to combine the plastic beauty and a horrible subject. Which puts his photographs on the panel of the work of art, it is not just some local news.

And in November, within the Month of Photography, we are showing Toligniew Krsnamacar work (it is a pseudo of an Indian artist Aditya Mandayam which he took for the show). His photographs are a sophisticated journey, where old or revisited printing techniques are strongly connected with the complex themes. It creates a polyphonic ensemble of the interacting elements.

But there are more shows to come, with the old page to reopen, on Russian photography an dits inscription into world history of art.

Art Blog - Russian Tearoom Gallery - Empty Kingdom
Evgeny Mokhorev