Russia firm turns to art in times of crisis

Mon Feb 16, 2009 11:43am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

SAMARA, Russia (Reuters Life!) - The ruble is tumbling and energy firms are cash-strapped, but Russia's second largest gas firm Novatek believes art should not be forgotten in times of crisis.

The firm, in which gas giant Gazprom has just under a 20 percent stake, is sponsoring the exhibit of 30 paintings by one of Russia's most esteemed 20th century artists, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, on his home soil in southern Russia.

The works are on loan until next month from St Petersburg's State Russian Museum, and are on display in the city of Samara in a gallery owned by Novatek's Chief Executive Leonid Mikhelson, celebrating 130 years since the artist's birth.

"Our life is not just about business... This is our contribution to the life of the country," Novatek's Deputy Chairman Vladimir Smirnov, who was born in Samara, told Reuters, adding that the firm wants to keep supporting art despite the crisis.

Smirnov declined to say how much it cost the firm to sponsor the paintings, which are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Petrov-Vodkin, like Mikhelson and Smirnov, studied in Samara, a large trading city on the Volga river about 860 kilometers (534 miles) southeast of Moscow that was closed to foreigners during Soviet times. Novatek runs a polymers plant there.

Art critics and museum curators were jetted in for the exhibit, and later scurried across the enormous frozen Volga on hovercrafts to stay on Novatek's private island.

"When the world is crashing all around us, it is wonderful to see a company helping the arts," said Russian art queen Olga Sviblova, curator of the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and founder of the Moscow House of Photography.   Continued...