We recommend art as a much more interesting, satisfying and financially rewarding alternative to putting your money in the bank! Consider possible returns in value of 10-15% per year
On a recent trip to Tbilisi, I had the long-awaited opportunity to meet the two Nadimashvili brothers who own and run Solomon Art Gallery in Tbilisi, at 5 Archil Jorjadze St, just behind the new Gallery of Fine Arts which is on Rustaveli Avenue. Aside from browsing their considerable collection of 20th century Georgian art and century-old photographs by Dmitri Ermakov, I interviewed them on the history of their gallery and the prospects for collectors to acquire something not only beautiful, but also of growing value. What follows has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How did your gallery start?
Ilia Nadimashvili: I was all of three-years-old when my parents took me on an archeological expedition for the first time. My father was a famous archeologist, and himself was only 7 when he met Ivane Javakhishvili, one of Georgian education’s founding fathers, in 1918. The great man was our neighbor here in Tbilisi. “I’ll take you to some villages in the summer,” he told my father, “and you must write descriptions of what you see there, the ethnographic findings.” So that was his start in this field, which led eventually to us and ours. He was only 18 when he began leading expeditions, and his work went into the now-called Janashia [Historical] Museum.
In these [early Soviet] years, there wasn’t much archeology at all being done in Georgia, and the main movers and shakers were in Moscow. The early finds, including ancient gold and silver vessels, were astonishing. They demonstrated that in the 17th century BC, there was already a king, state and government in Georgia. My father was 34 when he was appointed director of the Historical and Ethnographic Museum in Gori, and held that position for about 50 years, also meeting my mother when she worked there as a specialist. And much of my brother’s and my childhood was spent in that museum, which gave us our love of art. Our first collections were things like coins, matchbox labels and postal stamps. From these beginnings, I later began collecting music on vinyl from the USA, when it was still very difficult to obtain here. My mother won a radio in a lottery when I was 14, and through it we found the shortwave Voice of America program, with not only news from those forbidden places but also their music! That’s a whole story in itself. [On the wall is a photo of Ilia at a photographic expedition in London, posing with supergroup Queen’s guitarist, Brian May!].
Archeological ceramics were another early love of ours, and from these we moved gradually into modern art. Solomon [my brother] specialized in art history here at the Art Academy in Tbilisi, while my formal education was in archeology, followed by 20 years’ specialist work in my father’s museum. Solomon was friends with the artists here, of course.
Solomon Nadimashvili: I studied at the Academy here from 1980 to 1985, under teachers and professors who are now legends in their fields. Some of my practical work was in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and its Pushkin and Historical museums and others. The Hermitage’s director was a close friend of my father’s, and he opened the doors for us to otherwise closed collections. One of my focuses was Avant-Garde ceramics, including those by Kazimir Malevich and other Suprematists. Then I went to Central Asia, to Samarkand and Bukhara, also catching an exhibition of Picasso’s ceramics in Tashkent. Parallel to all this, of course, were studies in Georgian art of the 20th century, and meetings with the artists of the day. Armenia too, with its own ancient and modern art. Ceramics, Russian, Georgian and European, especially the Royal porcelain of Copenhagen, were an early collection of mine. From these I branched into other art, especially painting, and travelled extensively to galleries all across Europe. The best private collection of art from the time of the French Revolution was taken by its owner, a Count, to London, where it still resides, given to Britain!
From all this sprang the roots of our own private collection and gallery in Tbilisi. We wanted to specialize in the forgotten artists. There are popular, famous ones, but also others, not less in talent but much less known, from the 1930s onwards. The first education for these was through St Petersburg, then Paris, and the 3rd generation returned here and taught in Tbilisi, in the 1940s and onwards. Many of them are almost unknown now, tragically; but we got into contact with them, and collected their work, much of which was considered and called nonconformist, not approved by the rigid and realist Soviet art standards. There are so few opportunities to see paintings from this period on display anywhere, but here in our gallery, you can.
Ilia: Most of the artists of the Soviet period were supported by the state, and thus bound to a certain extent to produce “approved” work. Now, of course, they are free of these constraints. But up to the 1990s there were only three art galleries in Tbilisi!
We can now count, from the 20th century until now, about 10000 artists in Georgia. Of these, about 2000 were or are part of the Georgian Artists’ Union. But less than 1000 of these have been included in books. Now, in our little country, with its largely ruined economy, there are not many possibilities to discover and collect our art. But our gallery is among them. We recommend art as a much more interesting, satisfying and financially rewarding alternative to putting your money in the bank! Consider possible returns in value of 10-15% per year… And we are at your service, from free consulting and advice all the way to helping with the export of purchases for those who must leave the country. Museums are bound by much more stringent export laws than galleries, but we would like to see things streamlined legally to European standards, because there is still too much bureaucracy involved in this here at the moment.
We would really like to popularize Georgian art today, a unique opportunity to acquire and appreciate what is beautiful.
5 Archil Jorjadze St, Tbilisi
The Gallery is open by appointment;
please call +995 593 553391 (English is fine) or email:
Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/
He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti
By Tony Hanmer