‘Art for booze’ – St. Petersburg artists give away paintings for drinks

Since 2015 a mini auction has been held in St. Petersburg in which high-profile artists are giving away their works for alcohol. RBTH finds out who is exchanging their professional paintings for whiskey and wine – and why.
art for drinks
The organizers say that the project's ultimate aim is to make art more popular among ordinary people and expand the influence of the contemporary St. Petersburg avant-garde. Source: Gennady Demchenko

A girl called Sasha is ready to give me a wonderful rural painting of grazing goats in exchange for a bottle of dry French wine. We meet in a restaurant courtyard of a large commercial center. The fragile Sasha hands me the neatly wrapped oil painting and I quickly slip her a bottle of red wine under the table.

"Why don't you ask money for your paintings?" I inquire. "You paint with oil, the work is really good, but you only ask for a bottle of wine."

"You see, usually people are willing to pay for something crazy," she responds. "But I work in the realist genre, which usually doesn't sell. These, you can say, are my student works. Even if I was able to sell them, I wouldn't get much money. Whereas wine I really like."

Auction instead of a local soiree

The girl found the "Art for booze" page on a social network by accident. In reality it turned out that the small group hides an entire community of high-profile artists.

The story began when artist Vladimir Garde gave his girlfriend a painting and she thanked him with a bottle of port.

"It was then that we decided to gather all our painter friends and exchange paintings for wine," says artist Svetlana Vorobyova.

"But suddenly our local soirée transformed into a large mass event. It was attended by a record number of guests and a line formed for each work."

The artists immediately organized a bar and an auction. Some works went for 40-60 drinks. Then the artists realized that people spend money far more willingly on drinks than on works of art.

21 liters of whiskey

"In my opinion, this is a project that proves a simple truth: A good idea is often more important than money," explains artist Alexei Kiryanov.

"There was a little bar in the wild backstreets of the Petrograd Side [a district in St. Petersburg], very little money to buy alcohol, two-three people who thought of this and the artists who had believed in this silly and fun idea and given us their works."

Gennady Demchenko
Gennady Demchenko
Gennady Demchenko
Gennady Demchenko
Gennady Demchenko
Gennady Demchenko
Gennady Demchenko
Gennady Demchenko
 
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Collectors also came to the soiree, as well as painting lovers, since the real cost of the paintings would have been higher if they had been bought in galleries or art stores. All the paintings were sold, or rather, given away for drinks, recalls Kiryanov.

"I exhibited five small but quality works," he adds. "And got 21 liters of excellent whiskey for them! Part of it I gradually drank myself and some I gave away to friends, without even a hint of regret about having participated in such a fun project."

The project will be repeated in the summer. A catalogue of bars and restaurants where people can come and exchange alcohol for paintings will be drawn up. There are also plans for a new auction.

"We ourselves find the artists who we select for the projects," says Vorobyova. "The main criteria are that the works must be on painting theory. Here in St. Petersburg, unlike Moscow, for example, the schools of eminent artists, such as Kazimir Malevich, Osip Sidlin, Vladimir Sterligov, Nikolai Rerikh, Pavel Kondratiev, are very strong."

‘We actually don’t drink much’

Following the memorable soirée many people have showed an interest in participating "in this madness," as the organizers have called it.

The organizers say that the project's ultimate aim is to make art more popular among ordinary people and expand the influence of the contemporary St. Petersburg avant-garde.

Many of the artist participants do not even drink, and their works can be found in the Russian Museum and many private collections even without the auctions.

"Sergei Larionov, one of the artists, has had a bottle of Absolut in his house for a long time," remarks Vorobyova. "But we actually don't drink much. We just can't get to that bottle."

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