Denis Khimilyayne: a collector of ideas
Profile of a St. Petersburg businessman who recently started collecting contemporary art for the ideas it inspires.
Denis Khimilyayne is a 47-year-old businessman from St. Petersburg who started collecting Russian contemporary art only five years ago. What fascinates Khimilyayne most are the ideas provoked by works of art. “For me, what’s most important in art is thought, not expression,” is how he puts it. Given that, it is not surprising this collector worships the Moscow Conceptualist artists.
“I started collecting art about five years ago. There is nothing special in it. Collecting is inherent in human nature. As kids, we collect all kinds of things, including bugs, worms, as well as stamps and badges. As adults, we collect strange things like art,” he says. Khimilyayne began buying Russian contemporary art once he could afford it, but admits that “it can be uncomfortable to live with at home”, although he personally does not suffer from that problem.
He started to buy art as an investment when he had money to spare. The first work of art he bought was a 1953 classic still life with lilacs by Pyotr Konchalovsky (1876–1956). “You can’t guess what kind of collector you’ll become. It still hangs above my TV set,” Khimilyayne says, remarking on the choice of his first painting. He stresses he does not only focus on contemporary art, pointing out that he also collected Russian post-World War II art, as well as the artists of the 1960s. “Today, it all falls under the term Contemporary Art and it is still possible to form a representative collection of this art, something that cannot be said of the Russian Avant-Garde,” the collector says. Asked about his favourite artists, the collector mentioned Vadim Sidur (1924–1986) as well as Boris Sveshnikov (1927–1998), adding that “what is very important for me is an artist’s destiny. An artist has to endure his art”.
As for the future, Khimilyayne expresses great interest in Russian Actionism whose participants are best known internationally thanks to the Pussy Riot group and the extreme performances of the Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky (b. 1984). “I’m very interested in contemporary Russian Actionism. I see a kind of zeal, a desire to influence minds. But in terms of collecting, this art is hard to grasp. I’m seriously thinking about collecting these works. You see, every work I buy doesn’t give me energy. It takes it away from me. It’s important for me to know that I’m somehow involved in the piece, and it feels good to reflect on it. It’s a long process,” he adds.
Khimilyayne says he has received offers to sell works from his collection, but has ignored them and will continue to do so “as long as money is not tight”. He welcomes advice from other collectors, art critics and museum staffers, explaining that his own time is limited by his work, personal life and sport. “That is why I cannot be everywhere and if someone advises me to pay attention to a name or a project, I am only glad. But I don’t have a permanent adviser. The choice is always purely mine,” he stresses.
He sees collecting as having become a respectable activity, but has pointed out that it has only very recently obtained that status in Russia. In the 1990s, and even at the start of the 2nd millennium, many private Russian collections could not be legalized, because their owners’ net worth was much greater than their officially declared income. That has now changed.
As for his own collection, he has made it clear he has no intention to turn it into a museum, as some Russian collectors have done. Neither does he want to give his collection away to any museum. Its fate therefore remains a mystery.
However, Khimilyayne does not sound optimistic. He has described current Russia as going through a fairly wild period that makes it impossible to predict the future. He is now showing part of his collection at St. Petersburg’s Anna Nova gallery together with his friend and fellow collector Sergei Limonov (b. 1978). The exhibition’s name is ‘Things’ and its curator is Alexei Maslyaev. Although both collectors have almost always bought the same artists, their approach is very different. Khimilyayne’s is cerebral while Limonov’s is more tactual. The contrast of how each collector dresses is also striking. Khimilyayne can meet his guests in an extravagant crimson robe reminiscent of the 19th century, while Limonov prefers to dress elegantly but very severely in black and white.
December 8, 2020 – February 6, 2021