Art for all

A new art gallery offers top notch art at affordable prices.

A reproduction of a scene from Yuri Norstein’s acclaimed 1970s film ‘Hedgehog in the Fog.’ (photo credit: ALTMANS GALLERY)
A reproduction of a scene from Yuri Norstein’s acclaimed 1970s film ‘Hedgehog in the Fog.’
(photo credit: ALTMANS GALLERY)
Ever been to a museum or art gallery and fantasized about how a nice little painting, say, by Chagall or Miro might look on your living-room wall? Well, you can stop fantasizing and get yourself over to Altmans Gallery on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
The new art venue was opened around a month and a half ago by Muscovite art dealer couple Egor and Kristina Altman, and appears to have added a new dimension to the local commercial art scene.
The vast majority of the works on sale there pertain to the lithograph genre, with the artist roster tending to the iconic side, with the above giants of 20th-century art featured, as well as some delectable gems by the likes of Picasso and Dali.
Sounds like you’d have to mortgage your home and, possibly, then some to acquire one of these? Not really. Prices start from three-digit dollar sums with, for example, Hedgehog and Owl on the Well, a charming inkjet reproduction of a scene from now-75-year-old Russian animator Yuri Norstein’s acclaimed 1970s film Hedgehog in the Fog going for $530, while Chagall’s 36.4 x 26.3 cm.
Jeremiah’s Lamentations is on offer for $1500, and Dali’s Flordali (105 x 76 cm.), from 1981, is on sale for $5,000.
There are, of course, items plainly aimed at the better-heeled art lover, such as Picasso’s 1956 monochrome lithograph Portrait de Jacqueline ($38,400), and signed etching Sculptor with Goblet and Squatting Model ($42,000). Andy Warhol’s 1964 lithograph Flowers, signed by the creator, will set you back a cool $50,000. But the sense you get from both the Tel Aviv gallery and the parent outlet in Moscow is that original artwork by world-renowned artists is not necessarily in the arm-and-a-leg league.
The initial outlet opened in the Russian capital in 2015 with an exhibition of works by Norstein. The Altmans clearly hit the art consumer nail on the head with around 10,000 visitors flocking to the gallery located in a swanky downtown shopping mall. Chagall is also a popular draw in Moscow, not just because he hailed from that neck of the woods, give or take 500 kilometers. The March 2016 exhibition at the gallery marked the first collective showing of Chagall’s graphics from his lauded Bible Series, and works dedicated to Paris, the artist’s hometown of Vitebsk, and his childhood memories.
The Altmans’ daytime job involves running a highly successful marketing agency in Moscow, but Egor Altman has quite a few others avenues of interest that fill his busy day. In addition to his business interests, he serves as chairman of the Public Council of the Russian Jewish Congress, established in 1996 by a group of Jewish businessmen, activists and religious figures, and aimed to revive Jewish life in post-Soviet Russia.
Altman has had his capable hands in the Russian art community mix for some time. In 2008 he initiated a largescale exhibition of the works of Igor Vulokh, on the occasion of the latter’s 70th birthday. As an abstract artist, Vulokh’s oeuvre was not exactly commended by the Soviet cultural authorities, who preferred art to tend to the socialist realism side of the creative tracks. Vulokh eventually gained state recognition in 1996.
The 2008 show was not just Altman’s salute to a great artist. Vulokh, who died in 2012, was Altman’s stepfather. His mother is an art director, so Altman grew up on a rich artistic diet.
“My stepfather had two lives,” he notes when we meet at the Moscow gallery, “one official life and one underground. That’s how it was in the 1960s.” It was also the way for many Jewish artists.
“Around 80% of underground artists during the Soviet Union were Jewish,” Altman explains.
Thankfully, today the work of previously officially spurned artists such as Vulokh is now readily available, budget permitting, and the Altmans’ two galleries were established with just that ethos in mind.
“People go to stores to buy clothing and jewelry and other things, and we want to show them that they can buy art – original art, too,” Altman explains. “I thought about the art format that people could afford, and I realized it was lithographs of the leading artists of the 20th century – this is about affordability and the well-known names.”
While the Altmans clearly pertain to the well-to-do sector of the Russian socioeconomic spread, they take a definitively non-elitist view of art consumerism.
“It should be possible for any family to come here and go home with a lithograph, and hang it up in their home,” says Altman. “An original work, a masterpiece.”
And not just for self-consumption.
“For an affordable price you can buy someone a great present,” he adds with a smile. “And the present will be priceless,” Kristina adds, “because it is an original of Chagall or someone else famous. It is a special present. It can be a present for people who have everything.”
In intrinsic enduring value terms, that certainly beats shelling out a couple of hundred shekels or so on a reproduction of a hand-colored etching from the 16th century, or on a hefty exhibition catalogue for around the same price, from a museum gift shop. The Altmans also feel there is a didactic element to the commercial gallery exercise.
“The next generation will also see the works of art,” Altman explains. “When you buy a piece of art you can hand it down to the next generation.”
“It is also an investment,” Kristina notes. “It is a financial investment, but also an educational one.”
The former, says Kristina, is an art market fact on the ground. “These works are diminishing in number, so their value is constantly increasing.
These are all originals.”
“This picture on the wall, there are only 130 pieces,” says Altman, pointing to a fetching work by Matisse behind him. “It was made in 1926. A lot of these pieces were lost during the [Second] World War, or damaged. The prices of these works are just getting higher and higher.”
The Altmans are aware they have to tailor their wares, not only to suit pockets but also local tastes.
“In Russia, I think the No. 1 is Dali,” Altman observes. “I think No. 2 is Chagall – of course, Chagall was Russian. I think Picasso, too.”
The latter may also be down to political considerations.
“You know Picasso was a big friend of the Soviet Union. He was against [Spanish fascist dictator] Franco and for the Soviet Union.”
Over at the Tel Aviv end of the Altman lithographcentric art proffering enterprise, the sense is that Miro and Chagall are firm favorites.
“These are all masterpieces,” says Altman. “I think everyone should have one.”
For more information about Altmans Gallery: