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“Starting from Scratch”: an Interview with Cristina Olteanu

“Starting from Scratch”: an Interview with Cristina Olteanu

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Art Media Agency, 19 February 2015

Cristina Olteanu is one of the co-founders of Lavacow, an online auction house dedicated to emerging Eastern European art, based in Bucharest. Lavacow is a subsidiary of Artmark holding NV, and held its first auction in May 2014. Olteanu trained as an economist in the United Kingdom and Romania, and has been COO of Artmark since 2012. During her time with the company she has helped in the development of some of their most important projects, such as the founding of the Romanian Institute for Art Management. She spoke to AMA about the creation of Lavacow, the auction house’s aims, and the Romanian art market.

Can you tell us about Lavacow and what your aims are as a company?
Lavacow is a relatively new company, which started a few years ago but had its first auction last May. In setting it up, we wanted to create a new kind of platform which was accessible to people around the world and which was simple and user-friendly. The idea was to promote contemporary art, especially Eastern European art, because the market in Eastern Europe is quite separate from the international one, but still contains a lot of great artists. We sell works not only by artists who are known on the international art scene, but also by a lot of talented artists whose work is not as visible internationally. We try to target not just Eastern European collectors but international collectors.

How was Lavacow created?
The same team that started Lavacow previously worked in the biggest auction house in Romania, Artmark, which was created back in 2008. We therefore already had experience in the local art market, and in the creation of Artmark, which itself revolutionised the country’s art market. We saw a gap in the market, and knowing the scene very well, we had the idea to start an online-only auction house which addressed Eastern European contemporary art, where there was a gap in the market.

What do you think makes Eastern European art different?
It’s very fresh. When it comes to the art market, Eastern Europe effectively had to start from scratch in the ‘90s. Artists could not really express themselves under communist rule, so in the ‘90s there was a new wave of ideas and artworks. The younger generation tried to get themselves known abroad, which they did a good job of. Their work has an international appeal and an accessible quality.

Could you tell us a bit about the Romanian art market?
As I was saying, in the ‘90s we had to start from scratch as there wasn’t really an art market. After the revolution in 1989 an auction house started up, in 1990, but it was quite local and closed-off, far from the international standard. For the following 10 years, the market functioned in the same way, until artists began to go abroad and become more familiar with Western principles, changing the way they worked. Right now, the market is really about the auction houses, as these are the public faces of the art market. There are seven auction houses, of which Artmark is the biggest and most visible, with 70 to 80% of the market share. The highest prices internationally are found in contemporary art. We also have a few galleries which are known internationally, located in Cluj and Bucharest, and artists who are collected internationally, such as Adrian Ghenie.

Do you think the fact the Adrian Ghenie will be representing Romania at the Venice Biennale this year is going to change things for other Romanian artists?
Yes, as until now he has been famous abroad, but he hasn’t had any big shows in Romania lately, and he hasn’t been that famous to the general public in his own country. The fact that he is now going to be representing the country at the Venice Biennale will also help other young artists, highlighting Romanian figurative art. I think it will attract a lot of international attention to our younger artists, and I hope it will have a good impact. I think it’s important to stress Ghenie’s connection to Romania, and to the Cluj school of art. He also works a lot to support other Romanian artists and I think that this will be another important step forwards.

Do you have a lot of Romanian collectors who come to Lavacow?
Yes, because it’s easier for us as we have the experience in the Romanian market. In the beginning, we marketed ourselves within our network of Romanian collectors, but we now focus on expanding our network to international collectors. Our first auctions saw foreign buyers, but the Romanians are still the majority. However, we are trying to promote auctions more abroad as we see great potential for international buyers.

Have you got any particularly interesting auctions coming up?
Our next auction is on 23 February at 9pm EET, and is a mix of works by young upcoming artists and accessible works by well-known international figures. In March we are going to be hosting some charity auctions, collaborating with different foundations.

*Picture: János Huszti, "Man with a Bag", 2014

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