Aidan Salakhova, artist

Aidan Salakhova has a boiling mixture of southern blood in her veins: Uzbek, Azerbaidzhani and Armenian. Yet she identifies herself as a Muscovite and a patriot of contemporary Russian art. In 1992, she established the “Aidan Gallery,” which today ranks among Moscow’s top three galleries and is known to every self-respecting art lover in Russia.

Drawing and painting came naturally to this daughter of Tair Salakhov, a renowned master of the arts in Russia. But fame had its price. Salakhova suffered from “terrible complexes, as it was very unpleasant to hear in secondary art school, ‘Hey, does your father do all your drawings?’

“So, I had to prove with all my work that I was doing it myself ... But, to my father’s credit, he was a tough educator and didn’t take it easy on me. ‘Tough’ meaning he told me that one must achieve everything in life on one’s own.”

Graduating from the Surikov Art Institute in 1987 with a Silver Medal from the USSR Academy of Arts, Salakhova quickly made a name for herself. In 1988 she participated in the group exhibition, “War and Peace,” in Hamburg, Munich, Moscow and Leningrad. In 1990, she had a personal exhibition, “Visual Stimulation” at New York’s Farideh Cadot Gallery; in 1992 she took part in the “Leda and Swan” exhibit at the Berman-EN Gallery in New York.

But in her was a dormant passion to promote the talents of others as well. It awoke in 1989, when she opened her first joint gallery in Moscow. “Once you get into it [the gallery business], there is no way back, it is so addictive ...” She soon set up her own private gallery and set about making famous such Russian artists as Stas Shuripa, Masha Pogorzhelskaya and photographers Mikhail Rozanov and Tatyana Panova, to name just a few.

But before these names became newsmakers, Salakhova faced the Herculean task of rebuilding the Russian art market from scratch. “Unfortunately, in our country a gallery was not originally a business. In 1992, it was very hard for all local gallery owners. They had to do too many things. We were compiling art collections, making gifts to museums, supporting artists financially, financing exhibits … In principle, gallery owners are not supposed to do all this—it is the rich who must support the artists.”

Before 1992, those “rich” were foreigners—who bought modern Russian art for a time, then lost interest when Russia was no longer “hot.” By 1992, Salakhova explained, there was no more “perestroika-driven” art buying. “In 1992, no one here had a clue what modern Russian art was ... So prices were very low—from $500-$1,000 to a maximum $2,000-$4,000.”

Within five years, the market had begun to pick up a bit, and today there is a well-established circle of Russian art collectors paying anywhere from $3-20,000 for a piece of art. Salakhova is bullish about the future. “Because today, people’s art awareness is up. The taste for Russian art has been created. Unfortunately, there are very few of these modern Russian artists—some fifty names—and just a few Russian galleries who work with these names,” she said.

So one should buy Russian art now, the journalist asks? “No, one should have bought it yesterday,” Salakhova laughs.

But Salakhova quickly adds that she feels her gallery work is not just about reaping dividends; she is proud to say she helped to prevent modern Russian art from dying. She still regularly participates in international art fairs in Europe at her own expense. Even though she said it is not directly profitable, “I participate and will continue to participate, as otherwise our country would not be represented there. No one at the state level understands this, and, by the way, usually the state subsidizes participation in such fairs.”

Meanwhile, the artist cum gallery owner continues to nurture her own art. In January, she participated as an artist in a major exhibit held at Moscow XL Gallery.

While it is surely premature to think of Salakhova’s heir in the art business—she has just turned 38—it is interesting to speculate about an “art dynasty.” Salakhova’s eight-year-old son Kay already enjoys drawing and has had the benefit of growing up surrounded by art. “Yet it is hard to define whether it’s a gift or just the result of the information he’s gotten from his family,” Salakhova says. Either way, true to the family credo, he’ll have to prove himself with talent and hard work.

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