The FINANCIAL -- The artwork of Georgian painter Merab Abramishvili was worth GBP 17,000 at an exhibition, at the Crossroads: Contemporary Art from Caucasus and Central Asia, in 2013. Just a year later, the value of this painter reached GBP 42,000. Despite this attractive example of how quickly one can make a profit, investment in artwork in Georgia carries with it a high risk of forgeries. The absence of any organization to issue licences for authenticity, MOMA and painters’ rating is but a short list of issues that hamper the development of the art market in Georgia.
“Georgians are not buying artwork based on pragmatic calculations. They are mainly influenced by having connections with the artist or just wanting to decorate their interiors,” Baia Tsikoridze, Founder of Baia Gallery, told The FINANCIAL.
“The Georgian art market has existed for around 20-25 years. Private art galleries were only established since the collapse of the Soviet Union. 20 years is a relatively short time. In some forms, this market has existed since earlier, but it was not developed as a business direction. There are many problems that still exist on this market. An absence of infrastructure is the main problem. It hampers the development, protection, improvement and popularization of the art market in Georgia. Today we do not have a museum of contemporary art, any special editions, magazines, television shows or websites where you can see the artwork and prices of any artist. Abroad, where this structure is centuries-old, the price of works of any artist can be quickly and accurately determined. This system protects and secures the rights of buyers, sellers, dealers and everyone involved. It is quite an orderly system. This mechanism develops the art market as a business direction,” said Tsikoridze.
“A person who decides to buy a painting is interested in how the cost of that painter has been changing over the years. Price monitoring, publishing the list of the top artists, and overview of the situation at auctions are all carried out abroad on an annual basis. Meanwhile, in Georgia this data has not been summarized for decades,” Tsikoridze said.
Last week The FINANCIAL met with Ms. Tsikoridze in order to find out the potential of Georgian artworks as a source of investment. She underlined two ways to choose an artwork as an investment. The first is purchasing the work of an already-recognized artist with high value, and the second is having the intuition to foresee potential talent.
“The first way is purchasing the work of a painter whose investment cost has been determined and is increasing year by year. However, this will be difficult for a person who does not have any connections with the art world. That is why it is important to have a list of ratings and a price base. It would help for the people that have an interest in investing to also be involved in the art sphere. Checking the authenticity of a work is another problem. There is a high risk of purchasing fake artwork. Visual checks is the only method that currently applies in Georgia,” said Tsikoridze.
In her words, a big share of the Georgian artwork presented at auction is fake. “The state should control it. It is very bad for the reputation of Georgian art.”
Sergei Shchukin was an art collector in Russia. He was purchasing the work of French artists like Gauguin and Matisse. It was at a time when no-one was paying attention to these artists. After the 1917 Revolution, the government appropriated his collection for the Pushkin Museum. Shchukin had an amazing ability to foresee great talent. When he escaped to France, one of the galleries there hired him and his job was suggesting which painters to buy from. So, people that have such intuition are welcome to try investing in art.
According to Tsikoridze, the highest prices which the works of a Georgian artist have fetched were those by Niko Pirosmani. His work Arsenali Mountain has been sold twice; once for USD 1,300,000, and the second time - for USD 1,800,000. The work of Gigo Gabashvili was also sold for USD 1,800,000. The cost of work of Lado Gudiashvili was USD 1,200,000.
In 2013 and 2014 Georgian artists participated in Sotheby’s auction. It was an experimental project of Sotheby’s for Caucasian and Middle Asian countries. The works of ten Georgian painters were presented in 2013. Baia Gallery presented three artists: Merab Abramishvili, Irakli Parjiani and Kote Sulaberidze. In the next year the number dropped to six. Together with Abramishvili and Parjiani, the gallery presented the works of Vakho Bugadze.
During both years the works of Merab Abramishvili were sold out at auction and exhibition, fetching solid prices. It was the first time that this artist had been presented at Sotheby’s. So, the results were fairly successful. The prices of works sold at exhibition are kept confidential. As for at auction, the cost of one painting was GBP 17,000.
In November 2014 one collector from Cyprus presented two paintings of Merab Abramishvili at auction. The third one was presented from unknown collection. It was a fake. So, it was removed. The remaining two paintings, the Holy Spirit and Dog Rose, were sold for GBP 30,000 and GBP 42,000, respectively. Just a year later, the cost of Abramishvili doubled.
“However, such a one-time occurrence does not create a system. It is necessary to create a unified system, which will promote Georgian artists in the international art market. Sotheby’s auction was a sort of incentive for Georgian artists. Unfortunately, it stopped shortly after it started,” Tsikoridze said.
Raising interest in artists increases the prices of their work, believes Tsikoridze. “Georgian artists are less known on the international stage. Arranging more exhibitions of Georgian artists abroad will establish a base of buyers overseas. A David Kakabadze exhibition was recently arranged in France. This was a very important event. A lot of people who are interested in 20th century avant-garde, could see works of art that are not already widely presented in the world’s museums.”
Georgian artists can be very interesting and talented, but fail to gain international attention. As Tsikoridze said, the international art market has its own rules and requirements. “International standards require meeting their demands of creativity, scale, style and outlook. For example, Elene Akhvlediani is very popular in Georgia. However, her works are not in demand on the international market. Meanwhile, Merab Abramishvili has a specific style, both in technical and ideological terms. He transcends the narrow, national boundaries, his art is closely related to world art. It definitely affects foreign art lovers and dealers.”
Baia Gallery plans to publish the rates of Georgian artists on the bases of our data in September. “We are optimistic that artists themselves will support us. Determining the real prices of their work is also in their interests. It will develop painting as a business direction. Not only collectors, but also people interested in investing in art, will get involved in the art market. This will also contribute to the purchase of expensive works via auction. All of this will help Georgia to be involved in the international system of the art market,” Tsikoridze told The FINANCIAL.