02/27/2014 10:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

With Art, the Choice Is Personal

The collector's driving force and passion for art is the subject of a new show that has just opened at The Garage Center in Moscow. Personal Choice: Collectors' Selections from Their Own Collections, turns the lens onto the individual taste of twenty leading Russian art collectors who have made a name for themselves by building reputable collections since the 1990s. Curated by Yulia Aksenova, Anton Belov and Kate Fowle, the curators gave the exhibition a twist, by asking each collector to choose only one piece from their vast collections to represent their personal tastes. Armed with only one artwork to represent a collectors' oeuvre, the exhibition forces both collectors and visitors to reconsider the motivation behind collecting, and pays tribute to the deep bond that can be formed between the collector and the artwork.

Personal choice, Collector's Selections from their Personal Collections exhibition, 2014. All photographs by Ilya Ivanov, and courtesy the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture.

Art collecting first thrived in Russia at the turn of the 20th Century, with important works acquired by passionate collectors, such as Sergei Shchukin, Ivan Morozov and Pavel Tretyakov, later becoming the building blocks of important museum and gallery collections as pieces were bequeathed after their deaths. After the October Revolution in 1917, art collecting was put on the back burner, as the country dealt with more pressing issues of survival and political unrest. It wasn't until the 1990s that collecting art came into vogue, once again attracting Russia's elite to express themselves, and their wealth, through art. In a changing world, art collecting in Russia has become more globally focused, with collectors having access to and interest in an international roster of artists through simple factors, like the accessibility of art on the internet, as well as the rise of art fairs bringing foreign artists to new areas.

As the role of the arts has grown throughout Russia with the appearance of new foundations, private museums and art centers, so has the importance and influence of the individual collector, to help shape and inspire communities, as well as a future legacy that will one day be bequeathed to the public. However, at the present, most private collections remain private, enjoyed only by the collector and their immediate circle, unless loaned to a museum, institution, or put up for auction.  Wanting to bring the public into the privacy of these collections, "Personal Choice" gives the opportunity to enjoy rarely seen works that usually live behind the locked doors of the private collector.

Oleg Kulik, Cosmonaut (from the Museum installation), 2003. Collection of Ekaterina and Vladimir Semenikhin.

Yet, Personal Choice goes beyond just showcasing great works of art that are normally kept from the public eye, delving into the passion, drive and motivation behind the prominent Russian collector. True, many collectors may buy art with the idea of one day leaving a lasting impression on the art world through their acquisitions, motivated by investment or potential appreciation in value of a work.  But the act of amassing an art collection, as opposed to collecting expensive cars, is a more personal one, ultimately with the collector feeling some sort of intimate connection with at least a portion of the pieces they purchase. As the collection grows, the collector asserts their personal taste, adopting the role of something akin to a curator asserting an underlying thread or theme to acquisitions, which in effect is their personal vision. In the time honored tradition of being a patron of the arts, collectors also can hold pride in having "discovered" an artist, or helping to bring his or her work into fruition. By supporting the artist, the collectors can also align themselves with the artists' vision and oeuvre, taking satisfaction with enabling their work to thrive.

The works featured in Personal Choice were hand picked by a list of top Russian collectors, including Dmitry Aksenov, Mikhail Alshibaya, Leonid Blavatnik, Viktor Bondarenko, Andrey Cheglakov, Leonid Dobrovsky, Vladislav Doronin, Leonid Friedland, Andrey Gorodilov, Konstantin Grigorishin, Alexey Kuzmichev, Iveta and Tamaz Manasherov, Igor Markin, Margarita Pushkina, Dmitry Razumov, Ekaterina and Vladimir Semenikhin, Olga Slutsker, Vladimir Smirnov, Andrei Tretyakov, Igor Tsukanov, Olga Vashchilina, Alexander Zhukov, Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich. Rather than showcasing their entire vision, which was created over a number of years, the collectors chosen were given the difficult task of summing themselves up on just one word -- or rather, one work of art. For some, the task could be akin to picking one's favorite child, yet the pieces in the exhibition feel purposeful and strong, with paintings and sculpture from some of the worlds' finest and brightest artists.

Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, 2010. Collection of Leonid Friedland.

Leonid Friedland chose the gold-plated bronze sculptures of Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. By choosing Ai Weiwei, Friedland implies an interest in political hot-button issues, while also asserting himself as one of the lucky owners of a world-renowned artist currently showing in museums around the world. Other collectors chose to highlight their support for Russian artists, like collector Vladimir Smirnov who's contribution to the show, also used as the exhibition image, is a work called Slogan ("Long Live the Bad of Today for the Good of Tomorrow"), by Kharkiv artist Sergey Bratkov. Bratkov's work is largely influenced by the state of his hometown in the Ukraine, which is known for its poverty, homelessness, prostitution and devastation. Bratkov's work draws realist attention to issues in his home country. Smirnov's choice of this piece suggests his interest of social and political awareness in and around Russia.

Sergey Bratkov, Slogan ("Long Live the Bad of Today for the Good of Tomorrow"), 2010. Collection of Vladimir Smirnov.

Together, the pieces in the exhibition give an insight into the people who collect them, allowing the collector a moment to communicate a message, or lasting impression, through the artistic genius of another and showing personality behind the dollars used to support the art market. The well curated show opened on February 14, and will remain up through April 6, 2014, accompanied by workshops, tours and lectures that invite the public to further understand the factors that guide the choices and shape the personal tastes of the individual art collector.