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Sergo is capitalising on communist kitsch

Опубликовано: Camden New Journal

Sergo Grigorian first came to London as a Russian foreign trade ministry lawyer on a dream posting. That was in 1991. He scarcely imagined that the collapse of the Soviet Union would be so complete – swept away on Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberating tide of glasnost and perestroika. 

Grigorian, who lives in Highgate, fell in love with London and decided to join the growing ranks of the ‘bizniki’ – expatriate Russians striking out as entrepreneurs in a new Russian revolution.
Next week he launches a major exhibition of original Soviet poster art, at the Air gallery in Mayfair. 
The old order may have gone, but for Grigorian the Mayfair show is part of a master business plan to capitalise on the discarded trappings and artefacts of the Soviet-era and re-brand them as fashion accessories and sell them on the internet.

His home in Cholmley Park, Highgate – not far from where Karl Marx, the founder of communism, is buried in Highgate Cemetery – is a treasure trove of Soviet state bric-a-brac for which he believes there is a growing demand.
Grigorian has cheekily resurrected a squad of the once-famed Communist Party young pioneers as cheerleaders for the exhibition preview.

The ‘Soviet Young Guard’ will be waving the Hammer and Sickle at the Red Avant-Garde show in a peaceful bid to win over the hearts and minds of fashion-conscious youth.

The troop of teenage Pioneers has been recruited from among the expatriate Russian community in London by Grigorian, who is still a card-carrying member of Russia’s post Soviet Communist party. 
But there will be nothing proletarian about Grigorian’s young guard – they will be kitted out in costumes designed by leading Georgian haute couturists Tata-Naka who trained at St Martin’s School of Art. 

All special invitation ticket guests will have to wear pioneer scarlet scarves and join the pioneer squad flag-waving. 
The culmination of the show will be traditional Russian reception with buckets of caviar and champagne handed out to invited preview

This authentic celebration of the Soviet era has become an obsession for 43-year-old Grigorian. He believes that communist-era culture is undergoing a renaissance and Soviet posters hitherto regarded simply as propaganda, have an intrinsic value that transcends their political provenance.

“Soviet Socialism was the greatest experiment in history,” says Grigorian. “But even though it failed, we should appreciate its politics, art and culture. That never died.”

Grigorian has adopted a marketing strategy to sell communist kitsch. 
His online bazaar features a host of Communist-era artefacts – from Soviet navy nuclear submarine wristwatches to ‘Red Moscow’ perfume, the official state scent whose mixture of jasmine and bergamot was the only choice available for Soviet dames.
All 70 posters featured at the exhibition were produced between 1918 and 1981 by world-renowned masters, including Klutsis, Deni and Kochergin. 

And Grigorian says: “Looking at these posters, you can simply read a fascinating pictorial history of the life and times in the Soviet Union, in which we all have been participants.”
It is no surprise that in the last decade the market for the Soviet poster art has taken off in a big way at exhibitions and auction houses in both the West and Russia. 

Ten years ago Sotheby’s sold a poster by Klutsis for £17,000. Today the market value of artists like Lissitsky is in excess of £55,000. 
For Sergo Grigorian, that’s just the beginning.
n Red Avant Garde: Soviet Era Poster Art

The Air Gallery
32 Dover Street, Mayfair
from 21 to 27 March
0208 995 9330