What constitutes contemporary art for you personally? 

I do not have an exact answer to this question. It is an area where I operate. It is something that I am doing, and an area that I would like to follow. The concept of contemporary art today is so broad! There are tens or hundreds of contemporary arts today, and they all have a right to thrive. You would not be even able to perceive or evaluate all of them at once. A hybrid time has hybrid art. Earlier there was a feeling that contemporary art existed, and that it was steadily expanding its horizons, as for now, it blends in, it goes viral and spreads to different areas. Is it art or not – you tell me. For me, it went out of control, and I am not planning to deal with it. Moreover, I like today’s blending of criteria, evolving new forms of presentation due to the development of social media and new technologies. This forces museums, institutions, all sorts of biennales, and the artists themselves to change.

What is your role in today’s art scene? 

To talk about your role in the art scene is ridiculous. It is a theory of large numbers. The art sphere is humungous, people here have almost no significance. Nobody is important here. No matter what they think about themselves… everyone is replaceable. You can talk about a year, six months, a summer trend. This year I decided to take a move towards teaching. I was invited many times, but always declined such offers, and all of a sudden, I decided to try. So, I will be heading the contemporary painting studio at the Department of Design of the Higher School of Economics. Maybe this will constitute my role in a certain sense.

What connects new and old art? 

Traditions, representation, and national character. Humor. Let's put it this way – in terms of old art, new art is not yet art, and sometimes it is not art at all. All too often, pieces lacking in art are called art.

What was the turning point in your career? 

There were several turning points. The time when I decided to become an artist. When I entered art school, when we got exposed to contemporary art just as we were leaving the Soviet educational process behind. There are many landmarks, and sometimes they are minimal. A wise Chinese proverb goes like this: you have to make decisions about serious things fast, while the small stuff can wait. The point is that any significant decision arises from your nature. Say, you are told to go and kill somebody, and you are different, you follow the commandments. Thou shalt not kill! You already have made all the right decisions. You can take your time picking up shoelaces – should they be pretty or cheap, expensive or multicolored – there are so many choices. As for killing or not – this decision is made in a split of a second. What is important is the path that you are taking. The tiniest things are sometimes of more importance, with their help you finally come to an understanding of certain basic ideas.

Who influenced your art at different points in your life? 

My father, who was an artist, was a significant influence on me till I turned 16 when I enrolled into art school. Later I got under the influence of friends and great artists, one day it was Rembrandt, then Velasquez, later – Matisse and Cezanne, there was also a fascination with White, icons, etc. Then it was our Trekhprudny Circle (Moscow Squat Gallery in 1991-93 – editor’s note), Russian artists. The one who influenced me the most was Avdey (Ter-Oganyan – editor’s note) because he loved to talk, get into someone’s head, give advice, teach others. In that sense, the circle had been an instrumental school. After Trekhprudny, there were no more influence anymore. Each creative person is under someone’s influence first and later has to avoid any influences, tries to express himself. If someone mentors him, then there is no self-expression. It is better to make your own mistakes than repeat the mistakes of others.

What subject matter in the outer world inspires you, fascinates you and unleashes your creativity? 

How would you describe the contemporary art of Russia within the wider context of international art? 

These are all sad questions. I wouldn’t be telling you anything new. Art in Russia remains marginal, due to objective reasons. I won’t be recapitulating them here – I reiterated them too many times.

A lot of things changed in Russian art on institutional grounds. There is a bunch of infrastructures, biennales, art-spaces now. For the last 5-6 years, there have been university programs with masters in contemporary art. Where does it all go? Where would these people find their way? Russian art has huge potential, but Russian contemporary art exists in a non-freedom zone. Artists are dependent not only on the authorities but they are also affected by their own mentality. The latter is much more dangerous since it has to do with their minds. Take Basquiat. He died at the age of 28. Otherwise, he would be still running with a canister, and finally would turn into nothing, if not for Warhol, or other people around him. Society was ready to accept him, appreciate him since American culture is open to everything new. For them being different is good, for us, quite the opposite is true – we treat different as bad. It is also off-putting to recognize that the problem is in the heads of the “progressive” professionals who are in charge of the process. We have the same problem in our heads, as well.

Tell us a few words about the piece on the cover of Boscomagazine. 

The concept of the cover for Boscomagazine was to show the dishonesty of humble life. At first, I felt like transforming this family evening in front of the TV into something more terrifying. Then I decided to leave it as it is, in its more idyllic, picture-perfect version. I wanted to depict life not by reflecting the real things that blossom in our homes. The boy in the picture is my son. As for the father figure, I copied the looks of the guy who plays Thor (Chris Hemsworth – editor’s note). It comes down to the feeling of beauty and calm, though the real world is entirely different. All Soviet art was built on false illusions. Life was scary; its’ depiction in the movies or on a socialist realist’s canvas was beautiful. Art is a subtle thing, and its statements can be indirect, multi-layered, invincible. Such sort of art can allow an artwork to change its message over time. Times change, and the messages behind them as well. This painting is also an homage to the renowned 1959 work of the founder of pop-art Richard Hamilton – Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? This painting completely blew my mind.

What does the word “family” mean to you? 

My relationship with my family was always nuanced. Probably, I am not cut for being a family man. I had two parents, but they were not that close. My own family life was complicated. The concept of a modern family is changing. Some people even believe that there is no sense in having families at all. The family unit is a mode of survival. At a certain point, there was survival of clans, then family survival. As for now, especially in the Western world, people can live autonomously, without creating a family. It is hard to say if the family in the traditional sense will stand the test of time. There are countries where the family has already become a blurry concept. We are “old school”, so we do have some “family values,” but there are still many undergoing changes. The international trends are on the rise, so there is not much to do about it.

How did your family impact your life? 

It somehow influences me even now. My childhood was unpresuming; I don’t love or hate anything from the past. We were a regular Soviet family. There were things that I didn’t like, so I thought to myself that I would never become that way. I turned out to be precisely that way in some sense. I am trying, however, to do something about it.

Why do people create communities? 

I think that people form art communities since it is more difficult to rise to the top all by yourself. Sometimes, it would be even impossible to find a way of being on your own. You have a particular place in a small crowd. You can feel equal to the members of your group since your friends face similar problems, they create the same kind of art, they are also trying to be somebody. Being a part of a group is much more comfortable. Innovation exchanges take place among members of a community, and this helps them grow. A pack always has advantages. Being in a group is a way to withstand from pressures – sexual, political, artistic. This is how any community survives.

How should a neophyte approach contemporary art? 

In my opinion, a neophyte should look at contemporary art – this will do for a start. If he enjoys it, he is going to get involved. I do not agree to the notions: you should read about it first, surf the web, review the theory of art, and only then you will be ready. If he got interested in some sense that means that he is getting prepared, so he will read about it, will come again to view it, and will follow it. Contemporary art is about communications as well, even if we are primarily talking about paintings. The important thing is whether you communicate, or not. You should look at this kind of art; you should enjoy it, feel some drive. You should perceive art without nervousness. Only then you will feel like delving into it, reading about it. When you are ready, you can always go one level up. Most of us get there through the back door.

Why and how should one buy contemporary artworks? 

There are three types of buyers. First of all, professional collectors, who have a clue about what they want; they will even teach you some tricks about how it all works. Art experts or freelance art dealers are on their team. All of the above relates to professional art collecting. Collectors specialize in a certain period, say the 1960s, or they are searching for young artists. They could be art period oriented, or look only for “masterpieces.” It all depends on the strategy, the money involved, and the final results that are envisioned ofr each collection.

The second type is when a person buys a couple of pieces for himself. If you would like to live with artworks, then you should buy what you want. You can get advice, find out more, and select something according to your personal preferences, something that will give you bliss.

The third type is people for whom art is a business. They invest in art as if they were buying shares. They try to buy cheap and sell on the peak. It all depends on their professionalism, on how the buyer can estimate the artist’s potential, the market, and if he has personal instruments for promoting the collection. There are many such people in the world. There are even many books written about them. However, it is always difficult to make any predictions. Only the ones who are the happy owners of those financial instruments enjoy significant and sound success. Watch out for those investors, Gagosian being one of them, and you will be blessed.