Oleh Naumov was born May 2, 1961 in Dnipropetrovsk (currently Dnipro). Graduated as a technical engineer from Prydniprovska State Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture. Since 1991 he has worked at Dnipro television as a producer of information and documentary programs. He created an educational TV project “Encyclopedia,” which covers various topics in history, science, and art, and a series of programs “The Harmony of Classics.”
Oleh Naumov is the founder and the owner of the English Club TV channel, which for the past nine years has created educational video content for teaching English, based on the experience of worldwide experts. In 2013 he founded the Museum of Ukrainian Painting in Dnipro.
It was precisely this Museum that recently launched an unprecedented exhibition of a Ukrainian, Kyiv-based artist Matvii Vaisberg (see The Day’s No. 25 of April 11). After the opening ceremony, Naumov agreed on an interview.
How did you come to such a difficult business?
“Since my childhood a museum had been a place impossible to create: plenty of art, high ceilings, royal chambers, paintings of great masters, antiquities. But after a certain time collecting paintings I had the idea to make the impossible possible. Like a spaceship to build. Elon Musk could do it, because he had the resources. And I had the resources for my ‘ship’ too. Our museum was founded three years ago, and the Dnipro Oblast Art Museum has more than hundred years of history. However, they started with 67 works of art, and we had 300, so I said to myself: ‘Don’t be afraid, do it!’ Now we have a total of about 3,000 works, and we continue to update the collection. I can even say that I am not the collector I once had been.”
What is the difference?
“Then I was a person without a museum: no leased premises, no employees, no fees for utilities, no worries about restoration and room design, no planning for exhibitions and lectures, and so on. We spend our resources on these things, not for buying new art. I had to choose: either we are a dynamic art platform or we are collectors who don’t bother with it.”
Like a dragon hoarding his pile of treasure.
“Yes, I know such gentlemen who a) are afraid to show what they have; b) do not want to share it with the audience; and c) do not want to spend money on publicity, on the maintenance of a place to which people can come and see art. The issue is not a collection, it is the eternal question of what you love more: art in yourself or yourself in art? It helps to ask yourself this question; you do this and you see things normally again.”
But don’t you look estranged from the rest of the crowd?
“I do and I will be. I have a friend who says exactly the same: ‘You are very funny. You opened a museum. I still don’t understand why you need it. You don’t have a car, yet you have a museum. How can this be? I do not understand. Why do you do it?’ I answer: ‘It is a cultural project,’ and he says: ‘Well, don’t say if you don’t want to!’
“In fact, a person who sees real art has a special feeling. There is the exhibition of Matvii Vaisberg, and when I saw both his ‘Walls’ and other works in one room, I recalled the phrase once uttered by Mark Rothko, when he finished his famous chapel of the Ecumenical Church in Houston: ‘I have created a place.’ In this specific case, the art that Vaisberg brought have re-created this place anew. I was even slightly shocked of how organically his works suit our space. I am very impressed, because not every author looks so good here.”
What criteria do you use selecting art for your collection?
“The main principle is not to stand in the queue, not to chase an obscure third-tier piece by Repin or Aivazovsky, not to try to equal to the rich and corrupt. I try to create, albeit at the local level, a place for significant artists of Dnipro to be displayed. For example, Heorhii Cherniavskyi. Thanks to his family we have the largest collection of his art – 156 works, and we are proud of it. Or Viacheslav Khovaiev, student of Isaac Brodsky – our collection of him is also the largest, having 80 paintings and 300 graphic works. Ihor Yermolov was an impressive expressionist; there were two options: either his legacy gets scattered all around the world, or it stays here. I had to take out a loan to buy his inheritance. Viktor Matiushenko, Fedir Pavlenko... I have managed to gather a serious collection of Dnipro school. I am proud of everything I have. Students come from the art school, and we pass it to them. We dream of becoming No. 1 in that area. There are excellent Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, Lviv, and Transcarpathian schools – and the Dnipro school, which was famous in the 1960s and 1970s, needs support. But we are not driven by an ambition – like as if we want this artist because he is eminent. The main thing is not a name, it is art. Art never fails you.”
Are you going to remain at the local level?
“Of course, we will expand. The name itself makes us responsible for that. We will collect entire Ukraine. Dnipro school is only the first step. The second step is that we started to hold exhibitions of Kyiv artists. We have even announced the year of Kyiv school and the collection is being updated with their works.”
Well, there are known names associated with Dnipro. Take Vadim Sidur – the school where he studied is located directly in front of your establishment.
“This year we are going to arrange Sidur’s days for the first time, on his birthday. We will print a catalog, shoot a film. A gorgeous sculptor Oleksii Volodymyrov is going to hold a two-week plein air with his friends and students, we will open the exhibition of these works.”
So, excuse me for the elevated style, what is your mission?
“To collect and save. And to keep for future generations. It is good if you can track a talent from the start, but it is more a matter of gallery business, of promotion and sales. And sales is not a museum’s profile, although we can still try this approach. We need other people, other kind of energy. Selling here is almost meaningless; it is still possible in Kyiv, but not in Dnipro – it is not the time to buy. Perhaps one can try, but we don’t want to be a circus horse, trying to please everyone – I do not see the point. It is easier for me to gift a work rather than sell it. There is a separate profession, even calling; hopefully we will find such people, because money is always needed. We are always losing money as a cultural project.”
Where do you actually take money from?
“We create educational programs: ‘English Club,’ ‘Encyclopedia,’ and sell them to TV. And recently the city began to participate in several projects – for example, there is the mayor’s program ‘Cultural Capital’ that supports cultural initiatives. It is encouraging that the community began to realize the importance of this. As for private initiatives, I do not know how to approach them; perhaps I am afraid of failure. So I try to do everything by myself, so that I have no false hopes and disappointments. Perhaps I will need the courage for it. Hopefully, sponsors and patrons will awaken in time – the kind of people who want to build a social structure.”
Is it difficult, in Dnipro in particular?
“Not at all difficult. It will all be as you say. If you say ‘difficult’ it will be difficult, if you say ‘easy’ it will be easy. I think that the world always replies ‘yes’ to each of us. The city is not easy in this respect, indeed, we have fewer galleries than other major cities. I do business to earn for art. My task is to look for money and partners. This is purely a producer’s thing, a long game. We have opened three museums – in addition to the painting one – there is a unique museum of Japanese prints, some 400 works of the 18th and 19th centuries; then there is a museum of art enamel, about 250 exhibits, some of them created by famous artists who had worked in our workshop. There is also a workshop of graphics, and the works also remain in the museum. And sometimes it comes down to donations, as artists often come with their problems. One cannot save everyone, but there are occasions when I plainly cannot refuse. It’s like karma.”
Who decides on what to buy or exhibit?
“You can say it is me, but we have art critics who can insist, telling me: ‘We must take it!’ or ‘This work is good, it has a feeling, an emotion.’ I might not even have seen it at this moment, but they saw it and they suggest me – but yes, I do make the final decision.”
Do you conduct any research?
“Our Director of Research, the most venerable employee of ours – more than 40 years in museum business – is Liudmyla Tverska. She is constantly engaged in some research and writing. We collect a library. Of course, there is not enough money for everything. But it is important not to think of yourself as a hero.”
“A feeling of heroism creates heroic situations, that is the state of overcoming and struggle. And our task is to achieve our goals without unnecessary fuss and fighting for a place under the sun. It is a philosophy, indeed. But the first word is ‘the team.’ A professional, active, omniscient team.”
For a person with such a large economy you really look relaxed and calm.
“For my team is very good... The centennial museums will always treat us accordingly, for we will always be a hundred years younger. So we strive to occupy a position not behind them, but beside them. We need to find our identity. We have found it, I will not tell you about it right now, but it is always a road for many years. In the end we will look back and recap.”
So, what are your plans?
“As I said – we are going to hold exhibitions of different schools and authors across Ukraine. And then – the foreign ones. To maintain the townspeople’s interest in art. There is nothing outstanding in that; it’s an exciting, therefore easy job. I would not even speak about plans, because it sounds like something dry and mundane, but rather about dreams. I would like to find a way to collect international contemporary paintings, working with current modern authors. Spending one’s entire life dedicated to Dnipro art school is fine, but we need to develop. Argentine, Chilean, Brazilian, Kenyan, Korean painting, Australian Aboriginal art... not to mention Europe. We have the outline already. But it is important not to take too much, especially since I cannot afford the oligarchic way of gathering a collection. So I will find a more elegant solution. I know how to do it.”
Finally: do you have any passions outside your job?
“Museum is not my job. This is my passion, my hobby.”