Valery Zhyltsov

"Valery Zhyltsov portrait" Vladimir Akulov, 100x70 cm, canvas, oil

Ludmila Zhyltsova

"Ludmila Zhyltsova portrait" Vladimir Tovstik, 1997, 100x90 cm, canvas, oil

Valery Zhiltsou, a businessman, owner a collection of contemporary paintings and graphic arts, President of Arts Support Fund of Art Center Zhilbel , gives an interview to Alena Malochka, the author of the column “Autograph” of the newspaper Belarus Today.

How to hit the target invisible to others

I expect the debate on “the most versus not the most.” Art critics probably won't blame me for daring to give epithets, but I deliberately do it to prove once again that the gallery is popular, attended, and much talked about. Otherwise, why would be there so much discussion?

Furthermore , gallery Zhilbel is not yet Guggenheim Museum —ten-year-old gallery is still too young to be well-known. Should we refer to that event at all? Our reflection depends on the world view priorities. Local globalists, who prefer reproductions and old citations, will remain at the MacDonald's table without noticing anything particular in the date. “Landers” (I intentionally refuse to call them anti-globalists as that term associates with the word terrorists), who know the price of the original, will definitely regard Zhilbel's girst anniversary with respect. There is a hope that sterilization of the national traits, which is so evident in our inter-penetrating world, is not absolute in the world of art; especially, when business supports art. As a matter of fact, the gallery's ten years of operation was aimed at propaganda and support of contemporary Belarusian art. There were innumerable exhibitions during ten years. The initial steps to create a considerable collection that is bound to become the marker of the time were made. Though the words “Enlightenment” and “patriotism” are too common and too frequently used until they've lost their true significance, those are the right words to describe what the gallery tried to do. Zhilbel brings fame not only to its founders but also to our country. We should be patient and magnanimous. The merchant Tretiakov's collection also looked like a private chamber collection.

An old saying tells that there are three necessary conditions for a personality to develop: big goals, bid obstacles, and great examples. Valery Ziltsou's life perfectly fits into that patters, especially considering the fact that there are plenty of obstacles in Belarus . Frankly speaking, it is harder to find big goals and great examples; he had to construct them all over again in the early 90th. Seventy years of the Soviet regime erased, or deformed beyond recognition, the concepts of ambition, interest, and success form the collective consciousness through the constant repression of private initiative. Hence the majority of “new Belarusians” do not have bigger ambitions that owing a private residence. But Zhiltsou is one of the minority of “new Belarusians” who aim at the target invisible to others. It gives hopes that if someone persistently sends “messages” to the future ( Zhibel's activities are indeed intended to reach great prospects in the future), then they are sure that that future will be fulfilled…

Alena Malachko, author of the column “Autograph” of the newspaper Belarus Today .

- Valery, you started your gallery in the early 90th, uneasy time of the turmoil in the art world. The connections of the artists with the Union of Artists and the Ministry of Culture were hampered by financial issues, while the contacts with galleries had not been completely formed. You probably experienced distrust,reproaches, and unjustified complaints from both artists and officials, didn't you?

- Surely, the authority does not fall from the sky. There even was a period of Zhibel's discrimination by the public. Art critics were jealous. They thought that we take away their bread. State officials were furious because businessmen, as they called us, invaded their monopoly. Arts also did not trust us from the beginning fearing that we might deceive. Thus we began already loosing the game. It's been years untill our prestige grew to the extent that the Ministry of Culture invited Art Center Zhibel to be a member of the organizational work group of the Second International Shagal Plenary and me as a member of the jury.

- Indeed, Zhibel has a serious name. You work actively, and what is more important steadily.

- I'd add that after 10 years pf work we formed a circle of people who come to consult regarding the purchase of a painting particularly to Zhilbel.

- What painter of school do you personally prefer?

- Had I answered that question boldly, I would have ceased to be a professional. I prefer everything that is created with talent—from academy to conceptualism. There is a constant “election campaign” between a gallery owner and artists. If you demonstrate your preference toward one artist, you close oxygen supply and lose the game. There is no excitement without mystery. We follow everything that is attributed to the concept of “contemporary Belarusian art.” That is why it is erroneous to reveal particular names. Ultimately, it is not worth struggling, organizing, and maintaining a gallery, if you just want to show your passion for one's art. Do we have an enlightenment mission? Though it is not modest, but it sounds more like us. We are trying to create a complete collection that would demonstrate all tendencies in Belarusian fine arts of the late 20th—early 21 st centuries. Zhilbel's image dictates the gallery's policy regarding the choice of works for its collection.

- Have you ever tried to organize an art auction?

- We are ready to have it, but the audience… I feel that the majority of people are still not ready for that project. An auction will work out when there will be a middle class in our society; when the middle class will be ready not only to spend money on art, but those people will also be competent in painting and graphics above the level of amateurs.

- Are your business colleagues surprised at you activities as a patron of arts? Are they interested in the paintings and collection at all?

- Constantly . Many of them are amazed at first. Later, they ask to show them art studios and be introduced to the artists.

- Do you plan to exhibit your collection abroad?

- I have an offer to exhibit it in the Tretiakov Gallery. It is an honor and, simultaneously, a danger. It is hard not to turn into a neophyte who loses head in the light of new marvelous prospects. Gallery owners are like field engineers—they make a mistake only once. That is why we work, work… Regarding the West, it is too early to go there. The experience proves that the attempts of “new Russians” to show up in the West did not bear any fruits. Why? The reputation has to be earned at home first. It is also imperious in which showroom to have the first exhibition. If you dare to have it in the factory hallway, hotel lounge, or even city hall, the game is almost lost. Your reputation will not be repaired in the eyes of professionals.

- I've got an unexpected question. Has anyone ever tried to rob the gallery? The famous collections of Louvre or Ermitage also have become thieves' targets from time to time.

- Hm, have you heard rumors, or is it a spontaneous question?

- Frankly speaking, a spontaneous idea!

- As you know, we rent a room in the House of Nature in Traetskaje Pradmestse. A couple times a year we have to take away the collection to give room to animals. During one of such movings our security lost several paintings. They were cut form the stretchers with a knife, though they had been in their usual places on the same day early in the morning! Using didactic methods, we concluded that the personal that is in charge of the animals could have done that, but they were not able to leave the building. Indeed, we found the rolls with those paintings behind animal cages. I woun't say the authors ' name . He is still unaware of the incident . We restored the canvas very professionally.

- An excellent ending of the story . Now, Valery Yakaulevich, I'd like to explain to our readers that you are the head of a big company Zhilbel that produces civil and army uniforms and accompanies it with its own heraldry. Zhilbel just turned 13 years old . I heard that you are called the empire of uniform. You are well - known abroad too , aren ' t you ? It is a very unusual specialization. It is not enough to be a natural in business; you need specific skills for that. I mean cockades, stars, epaulets, chevrons. How do you produce all that at Zhilbel ?

- It is all hand - made . We managed to find craftswomen who work with embroider in gold. It is probable that the craft might have been forgotten as it happened in Russia , if we had not interfered. After the fall of the USSR , Belarus was left without its particular uniform. There was hardly enough money to buy camouflage for Belarusian police. Policemen looked quite aggressive, didn't they? But police is supposed to be friendly; it is not a special force. Thus, gradually Zhilbel took the lead in the formation of the concept of Belarusian army uniform. It is a serious undertaking, as army uniform is the face of the county. However, you cannot create a completely new uniform—no one will wear it. Everything should be considered: historic roots, traditions, mentality. Naturally, Belarusian army uniform has the legacy of the Soviet traditions, but if is also close to the European samples. Even uniform is influenced by fashion. We are currently working on the uniform fashion show. We want the state officials to make sure that uniform has changed under the influence of social and political processes.

- Do you have a lot of customers? Defense and law enforcement agencies, as far as I know, do not favor private companies.

- That negative bias was altered long time ago. State agencies also exist, but those who want to have their ordered made with quality and in timely manner, come to us. The speed of fulfilling an order is “order today and receive tomorrow.” Our hallmark that makes us differ from other businesses is that we can equip from head to toes. We produce everything: summer and winter equipment. We also supply other attributes, including belts, buttons, ties with emblems.

- By the way, how much is the uniform of a general?

- It is nice apparel, isn't it? It requires a lot of work to make but costs little. It is nonsense, but the prices are under strict state control. The inflation being 12%, the prices are allowed to be adjusted only by 1%. On one hand, Council of Ministers fights bankruptcy. On the other, it halters the company's growth. Consequently, the businesses in the country merely survive, say nothing of developing. Our officials do not look at profit realistically, because they have never owned a business. They perceive profit as somebody ' s fat wallet . It is very primitive . Hence while the economy is being operated by the officials of the past, we cannot hope for a breakthrough. I believe, they will be holding on their positions till the last opportunity, like Brest Fortress.

- Scientists argue that collective consciousness changes once in three generations. Has it ever occurred to you to run for a post and work in the government?

- It is an inevitable way for business people all over the world. Executives, managers should step onto the next level at a certain moment. When it becomes possible in our country, it will mark a new phase in our economy—the period of true development.

- Valery, who had the biggest influence on you?

- Hm, probably, Doctor Paul Bregg and his book on healthy way of life. Ii has been nine years as I've been going to the swimming pool at 6.20 a.m. and sit down at my desk at 9 in the morning. I come back home around 10 at night. I like to live experiencing constant stress. I do not get tired from stress and catastrophes. I perceive them differently . I see that people around me exhaust in a year or two; I surprise but keep on going.

- Is the old gun on the shelving in the den your another hobby?

- No, it is a present. It is actually a new gun in retro style. I put it within the sight, since it is a remarkable present. It is a multi-barrelled captain pistol that is used in the time of a revolt on the ship to fire at the crowd.

-So what significance do you put into that allegory?

-Democracy is the order. Do you agree?

-Try to disagree at gun point….