The women in very expensive dresses of chic simplicity; the men in dark formal suits; on all the faces serene, self-assured expressions of people who have a firm belief in the guaranteed wealthy future. These men and women gathered at an auction in Kyiv, not in London or Vienna, an auction of the Ukrainian and Russian paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries. One hundred excellent paintings by remarkable painters were offered for the starting prices ranging from 500 to 20,000 dollars, and about half of the lots were sold. The auction took place at the Vystavkovy Tsentr ("Exhibition Centre") at 3 Andriyivsky Uzviz, Kyiv. It was the eighth annual auction of its kind. The auction was opened by Oleksandr Brey, the Centre's director who was the first to start auctioning art works in Ukraine. Mr Brey, energetic, highly professional, is an exciting person to talk to. He is regarded to be one of the leading art dealers in Ukraine.

Thanks to him, an easy-going atmosphere is created at the auctions; this relaxed atmosphere in its turn relaxes the bidders and at the same time inspires them to bid for works of art they have liked until the very last. It should be mentioned here the Vystavkovy Tsentr forms what may be called quite a civilized art market in Kyiv, and does it along the lines accepted in the western world. It is surely a very positive phenomenon. Many sensible Ukrainians who are making considerable amounts of money have realized at last that buying works of art is not only excellent and secure investment art is beauty captured for eternity, and works of art acquired for one's home ennoble it. Oles Ilchenko, a free lance journalist, has interviewed Oleksandr Brey.

Q: How did the whole thing, auctions that is, start? How is the art market in Ukraine developing? What are the prospects of art auction and art gallery businesses in Kyiv and in Ukraine?
A: How did it start for me you mean? (Brey smiles). I began collecting paintings quite a long time ago, I was quite young then. But I never thought then that one day I would become an auctioneer. Besides, there was no such thing as auctions in the Soviet times. Collectors swapped paintings it was one of the ways of acquiring what you wanted. But with the collapse of the communist regime, it became possible to run private businesses. People began opening private galleries, paintings were sold and bought. Those who earned considerable amounts of money began investing some of it into buying objects of art. A proper development of the art market in Ukraine requires determined and knowledgeable enthusiasts. It's very hard to start an art dealer's business though. And not only because you have to have a lot of money. In the Soviet times, collectors were primarily interested in the quality of art works they acquired, there was a lot of informal socializing among them. Unfortunately, now there is very little of it left.

New businessmen do not seem to be much interested in getting together informally and talking about all kinds of things, not necessarily business. Not like it used to be: we would get together, discuss our new acquirements, share our joy over them. A fellow collector could call me at midnight and tell me he "has got something fantastic" and I would rush to his place to have a look at it. Nothing of the kind ever happens these days. Probably, new times require new ways of socializing. As far as the prospects of further development are concerned...There are new trends, new interests, our market is getting to be more civilized. The number of collectors who appreciate and want to acquire Ukrainian art of the 19th-20th centuries steadily grows. There were times when third- rate paintings by foreign painters were purchased mostly for their beautiful frames. Now there is a definite shift in interest Ukrainian painters are in vogue. Ukrainian painters are closer to our hearts and more understandable to our minds. We, at our centre, made purposeful efforts to promote Ukrainian art. We promoted Ukrainian painting of the "classical" realistic trend. There was little, if any, of this kind of painting produced in Europe for decades, from the 1940s to 1970s.
Secret Rendezvous. By Julius Grun.
Oil on canvas, 89 cm x 68.5 cm.

Ferriage on the Dnipro River.
By S. Svetislavsky. Oil on canvas, 63 cm x 49.5 cm.
Yes, the Soviet empire allowed only realistic painting to be officially exhibited, but on the other hand, painters were supported by the state, they were given studios, provided with paints and canvases at reduced prices, were given chances to travel at the expense of the state. Many paintings of this realistic trend are worth to be exhibited and purchased. Take, for example, the Ukrainian Zakarpatsky ("Transcarpathian") school of painting most of the works are immediately recognizable as belonging to this school, very different from anything else, without any ideological bias, richly colourful, decoratively expressive. I'm sure now I did right when I went into art business. I know I'm doing what I enjoy doing. There are problems, of course, to be overcome, but you can hardly expect to see art dealers with no problems.
Q: There are, if I understand it right, collectors who collect paintings knowing exactly what they want, and those who act guided by intuition, right?
A: Yes, that's right. In the early 1990s, people bought paintings without much knowledge of art, paintings were to just decorate their apartments. Now, the situation is radically different the number of such collectors has been greatly reduced and the number of those who can be called "true collectors" has increased. Also, there are many art connoisseurs. It's a very good tendency, it is evidence of the fact that our society is moving in the right direction, acquiring more vitality and vigour. People are interested in more than just having a good rest at an expensive resort, they are getting more and more attracted by true values in life.
Wintertime. By M. Glushchenko.
Oil on canvas, 46 cm x 63 cm.

Witchcraft. By Jean Arnold Heyermans. Oil on canvas,
61.5 cm x 42 cm.
Collecting works of art develops artistic tastes, develops personality. I'm sure there will soon emerge in Ukraine new Tereshchenkos and Khanenkos who were prominent art patrons and collectors of the early 20th century and whose collections are in museums now. At the same time, one must not expect there will be too many people who devote themselves to collecting art, collectors have always constituted a small fraction of society. I find it to be a very positive thing when I see 30- or 40-year old businessmen at auctions buying works of art with money they have earned. Before they purchase anything, they think it over very carefully, ask questions, go to museums and galleries.
Q: Do you sometimes feel sorry to part with this or that painting?
A: Well, I must tell you I never sell paintings from my own collection, but one always feels sorry parting with a good painting. As a matter of fact, we don't sell bad paintings. I do my best to auction paintings of top quality only. It's the only way to retain a proper image. Who cares now to buy bad art?
Q: What kind of paintings do you collect yourself?

A: Mostly it's Russian and Ukrainian paintings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Very good quality, too. That period is often referred to as "the Silver Age."
Q: Are there many auctions like yours in Kyiv and in Ukraine?
A: There are practically none, we are still unique. If to compare our auction with the major ones held in the west, I can tell you that we work along the same lines. We prepare each auction very carefully, it takes time. Paintings are taken from private collections. Because of the continuing economic recession many people are either unemployed or earn very little and so have to sell things from their homes to make a living. People sell art in their possession. I think the situation will change in not too distant future.
Q: Do you invite experts to examine and evaluate the pictures you auction?
A: In fact, I'm an expert myself, but of course, if a need arises, we do invite other experts. We bear responsibility moral and material for art works sold at our auctions. It's an intricate business, art auctions. We used to have auctions twice a year, more recently once a year. Now we think we'll go back to having two auctions a year because there are signs the market is getting more animated. We try to sell whole collections rather than individual works. In a collection, things are of more or less the same style, quality and general theme. We publish catalogues which help set the prices and determine what kinds of things should be sold at the next auction.
Q: What kind of paintings are most popular with buyers: still lifes, landscapes, portraits?
A: I don't think there are fixed preferences, things differ from auction to auction. Usually people buy what they feel is close to their hearts. Sometimes, a small drawing can be preferred for this reason to a big painting, and not because of the price.
Q: Do you feel yourself a monopolist in this sphere?
A: I don't want to be a monopolist, one must never think one has a monopoly, particularly in art dealership. I'm not afraid of any competitors, in fact I wish there were more of them. I'm not worried about my position at the market.


Autumn. By M. Glushchenko.
Oil on canvas, 70 cm x 100 cm.


Golden Autumn.
By M. Maksimenko.
Oil on cardboard, 59 cm x 72 cm.


Monastery Gates. By K. Kostandi.
Oil on wood, 23 cm x 30 cm.

Q: How profitable is your business?
A: The last auction was quite successful, though two or three years ago potential buyers had more money. But as I said things are starting to move, and this last auction is a proof of that. Some time ago I predicted an economic and financial revival would begin in 2000, and I think it is happening. There are a lot of things that show that our country has a future, that it is not just a backwater place of Europe. Kyiv can become a major centre of Central and Eastern Europe. If you look around in Rumania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland you won't find a place like Kyiv, particularly in culture. In the early 20th century it was not only a major economic and financial centre of the Russian Empire, but a major cultural centre, too! There were many art collectors and art patrons in Kyiv. Our businessmen are very active, they are aggressive in a good sense of the word, they are determined to achieve success. And they will have more and more money to spend on art, though there are people even now who may spend on a painting almost all they have saved. I don't think any westerner would do it. I'm looking into the future with optimism.