The First Artvilnius: Impressions and Conclusions
Marita Batņa, Culture Theorist
ARTVILNIUS'09 opened on July 7 and ran from July 8 to 12, heralding a new annual international art fair in the Baltic coun­tries. The project was organised by the Lithuanian Art Galleries Association. In a conversation with Studija, the association's President expressed her satisfaction and noted, that in an uncertain economic climate, a great deal of energy had been in­vested in the process. The fair was made possible by a 1.21million litas (350,440 euro) government grant. The Litexpo Exhibition Centre provided an excellent location for the event.
ARTVILNIUS'09 Litexpo Exhibition Centre. Photo: Marita Batņa
Credit for the representation of so many galleries - around 100 participated, the greater number from Lithuania, Latvia and Germany - is due to Dr. Raminta Jurenaite, a professor, critic and curator from the Vilnius Art Academy. The fair was limited to art from the 1960s onwards, at prices up to 10,000 euros. The curator informed Studija that the conceptual aim of the fair is to promote interaction between galleries from various geographical locations, both on a European and world scale, accentuating the same terms, but offering an alternative opportunity to the major art fairs. In truth, the market dictated and financial barriers that are features of Europe's most significant art fairs make regional fairs more attractive, especially since these also function internationally. ARTVILNIUS promises opportunities to po­pularise and develop an art market in the Baltic and the wider region, and ultimately to sell art, becoming a part of an international distribution network.

The galleries were housed in three halls, each with its own particular character. Halls 4 and 5 featured a wide range of painting techniques as well as photography, sculpture and video; the emphasis in Hall 3 was on con­ceptual contemporary art, executed in various media. Here one could discern the impetus for the local market to move towards a more balanced market development, taking into account that the gap between traditional and new media is greater here than in countries with a long-standing tradition of market demand for art. The level of quality did not disappoint and many significant art personalities were also represented.

The regional potential of the fair was reflected by the comments made by gallery owners interviewed. Director Kozák Gábor of Godot Gallery (Budapest) was attracted to Vilnius as a new market environment. Contemporary art is in fashion in the West, but the domestic market remains undeveloped. Bulart (Varna, Bulgaria) curator Dora Doncheva expressed interest in being part of the gallery network formed in Vilnius, because it offers the chance to work internationally when there is little demand for contemporary art at home. D137 (St Petersburg) owner Olga Osterberga thought that Vilnius provided an interesting overview of the regional art market and that the event is a "good idea."

What conclusions are to be drawn about the de­termining factors that will affect the development of ARTVILNIUS? A great achievement was the attendance by 17,000 visitors, mainly local people, at the event. French gallery owner Jerome Nivet-Carzon said that this level of interest reveals potential, and he speculated that it will take four years for buyers to appear. According to the organisers, over 50 works were sold. These results are unsurprising, but the reserve expressed by a few Western gallery representatives signals the need for more effective advertising and an international information campaign, in order to win over foreign buyers. The need for additional funding leads to the question: how quickly will the private sector respond to the state initiative of investing in the development of an art market?

Opening of 'ARTVILNIUS'09'. From the right: Vice-Mayor of Vilnius Gintautas Babravičius, 'ARTVILNIUS'09' project director Daina Stomiene, curator Raminta Jurenaite (centre) and coordinator Inga Urbanavičiute
Quality is another form of pressure that the inter­national market exerts on the ARTVILNIUS concept. West­ern gallery owners queried by Studija pointed to un­even quality standards, although it is difficult to object to par­ticipation by members of the Lithuanian association.

The future position of ARTVILNIUS will be influenced by international market conditions on the one hand, and the decisions and actions made to shape the fair's image on the other. Emphasis should be on the quality, using the waiving of participation fees as a means of bringing in high quality art. In any case, we must have faith in the curator's confidence in growth, based on this first suc­cessful effort, and the encouraging comments made by international experts.

The fact that not all Baltic galleries working with export-quality contemporary art were present (Tulips & Roses was absent, Riga Gallery informed that it would not attend, but Estonia was represented by just one gallery, Artdepoo) cannot be linked with the anticipated status and sustainability of the fair, even if this was the direct reason for non-participation. As this is the first time, all participants are there in an experimental role. The curator praised the "friendly atmosphere." That in itself is a good reward.

On meeting with Latvian gallery owners in Riga, compliments on the hospitality and the groundwork achieved so far by the organisers in Vilnius led to conclude that Vilnius has many advantages and there is no basis for moving the fair to Latvia. It is to be hoped that the Lithuanian government will allocate funding for the next fair. Could neighbours join forces for the consolidation of such an important event? Once again bringing up the issue of the necessity for a Latvian Gallery Association, the gallery owners expressed interest in future cooperation.

Wide-ranging partnerships resulting in a fair "in a single package" with art events seems a routine require­ment for fairs associated with a concrete location. It is significant that the European Capital of Culture pro­gramme, which augmented this first fair, left a permanent asset in the form of a new National Art Gallery. The planned Vilnius Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum would have a powerful effect on ARTVILNIUS. Riga too then could have a supporting role in hosting art connoisseurs.

View of Hall 3, on the right - Podzemka Gallery (Minsk, Belarus) stand
The view from Latvia
Afterwards, Studija invited Latvian gallery owners to exchange views about the event. The venue for this dis­cussion was the Māksla XO Gallery in Riga, and at the conclusion the participants of the gathering were invited to make recommendations for the development of ARTVILNIUS.

Norberts Sarmulis, owner of Antonija Classic Art Gallery: The first ARTVILNIUS international art fair is the most significant event of its kind to date in the Baltic countries, and as such it had the potential to generate interest in Baltic art amongst influential international art market players. As a gallery, we were interested in taking part as a way of promoting the artists we represent and furthering their engagement with the international art scene. However, we discovered in Vilnius that despite the high proportion of foreign curators, 97% of visitors were from Lithuania. Even though there had been advertising in international art journals and on the internet, it did not attract a great deal of interest. The works by Baltic and other artists did not gain international attention. The attention of the whole world was focussed on Michael Jackson's untimely death, and ARTVILNIUS was left unnoticed. I think that the event should be organised in cooperation with a more experienced institution or curator with the appropriate experience. For example, they could invite Samuel Keller (the former director of Art Basel / Art Basel Miami Beach - M. B.).

Ilze Kuišele, owner of Tifāna Gallery: The gallery participated in ARTVILNIUS'09 with the creation of a major exhibition under the slogan "illumination of the mind in the age of civilisation", presenting works by Aija Zariņa and Kārlis Vītols. My recommendation for at­tracting more funding and developing ARTVILNIUS as a Baltic regional art fair is to brand it as an unusual, high quality, intellectually and artistically recognisable product; with this future format it will be differentiated from the many other art fairs in the world by its added value.

Ivonna Veiherte, owner of the Ivonna Veiherte Art Gallery: Firstly, we must appreciate the contribution of our neighbours, for the idea and for involving galleries of various kinds. I am grateful and consider that it was our duty to take part. It is common sense that the Baltic countries must stick together, and that we can gain more in the international market as the Baltic. Of course, the fair is an enterprise for making profit, and fairs around the world work in such a way as to guarantee buyers that they won't have wasted their money. It must therefore be accepted that "he who pays the piper calls the tune." The growth of ARTVILNIUS is a matter of time, and this first time was a success.

Zane Reķe, representative of Gallery 21: It is valuable to get experience. We have gained, because it is usually not possible to enter the international fair circuit with such a large exhibition space. I am happy about the overall presentation by Latvian galleries; painting is espe­cially strong. I think that in the future we will also offer various new media. I was happy about the ARTVILNIUS'09 best young artist, Lithuania's Agne Jonkute, who we dis­covered while creating the young Lithuanian artists' exhibition at Gallery 21 this spring. We are planning to stage an exhibition by Jonkute in spring 2010. We work with artists from all three Baltic countries, and in the inter­national market context it is easier to highlight Baltic art as a whole rather than each individual country. There are many opportunities available for ARTVILNIUS. Currently "the waters are being tested", the next objectives and principles are being defined. It must find its own niche amongst other fairs, if it manages this, then ARTVILNIUS may in future become a significant event on the international art scene.

Ilze Žeivate, owner of Māksla XO Gallery: ART­VILNIUS'09 was a chance for us to show who we are to the invited European art experts and curators. It was im­portant to display our best authors (before they are all tempted away by foreign galleries) and to see their works in context with examples of Western contemporary art - the best and the worst. It was good that art collectors from Latvia were invited, to see their collections in context as well as the potential for development. As a result, Latvian galleries showed themselves to be capable of participanting in international art fairs. The product we offer - contemporary painting, drawings, sculpture - is very good, and it generated interest and even surprise.

Right from the start, the curators have set the bar high (although occasionally the miscellany of salon art felt overwhelming). There must be tough selection criteria if strong galleries from Germany France, Finland, Portugal, Russia, Ukraine etc. are to be present next year. Thought must be given to publicity in significant international art journals, and attracting the interest of serious art col­lectors and art foundations, which are amongst the most important collectors of contemporary art in the world today.

Toms Zvirbulis, owner of Birkenfelds Gallery: It was interesting to take part, because the gallery hadn't had this experience previously. The staging aspect plays a part in it all, but there was very intensive work with people as well. I purchased some things that I know I won't find elsewhere: it's a place you can buy art! We made contacts with artists and gallery owners, however I would have liked to obtain the business cards of other interested persons as well. I think that in the organising of ARTVILNIUS people from business must be involved, emphasising the marketing aspect, because this is an art fair where you can see what is on offer in the Baltic region, Russia, Eastern Europe and other European countries. If this side of it works, then growth will have meaning and the terms will be dictated by those attending.

Anna Sausverde-Ellger, owner of Art Promotion02 (Germany) Gallery. I was very much enthused by the op­portunity to participate in this sort of gallery context. I utilised it to demonstrate the dialogue between our school of painting and German artists employing innovative forms of expression. I gained an insight into this region's market opportunities in the context of the European art market. Nevertheless, such a fair must pay for itself, and here we run up against the current lack of purchasing power at the local level. ARTVILNIUS has the potential to become a European art fair. But it must be attractive to Western European buyers, both those who pay attention to names and those who spend emotionally. In order to create a fully rounded Western European art perspective, it is important that reminders be given of the events of the first half of the 20th century: this region is one segment. A niche must be found, but after that, the invited galleries must be allowed to pursue their own interests. A lot will depend on the organisers' ability to embrace and im­plement such a long-term strategy.

/Translator into English: Filips Birzulis/

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