Talking art with Ilya Chitadze
16 January, 2014
Talking art with Ilya Chitadze
Though the center of the art world, New York can be sometimes seem a wasteland of artistic development, causing many artists to look for a market in other American cities. In a candid interview, Georgian artist Ilya Chitadze discussed the realities of an art market that is becoming extremely global.
After immigrating in 1995 to New York with his wife Lana, Ilya found it less easy to break into the art world than he was promised. As a student and then
artist in Tbilisi, Ilya was considered a remarkable talent who could imitate anyone from Fragonard to Dali - but forgeries have never interested him. To him an artist must be original, and not imitate others for financial gain.
There were a few people in Georgia, as in other countries, who made quite a lot of money on forgeries. After all, Tbilisi Art Academy was very rigorous, and technique was paramount in the curriculum; inspiration and imagination were secondary. Ilya’s superb technique and abilities earned him great esteem, and after his graduation in 1979 he worked on commissions nonstop until the 1990s, when the situation in Georgia became unbearable and Ilya looked to immigrate.
While New York’s fast pace proved to be somewhat of a cultural shock for Ilya, who was 40 years old at the time, moving to Atlanta after a few years afforded the artist peace of mind and space to again work as he had in Tbilisi. And for a long time, Atlanta was a very good place for talented artists to sell their work.
But it’s one thing to have buyers and another to be part of a scene that includes a community of artists who meet and share ideas on a regular basis. This community that Ilya was seeking was not to be found in Atlanta. The 2008 crash also took its toll on the art market there, and it is still trying to recover. Ilya is one of the few artists still selling his works, but what he is more interested in today is talking about contemporary young Georgian artists.
Art markets differ from one country to another, he explained. Genres that are in demand in Georgia, for example landscapes and still lifes, don’t do nearly as well in the US, where abstract art, struggling in Georgia, is still all the rage. Similarly, a color Picasso will sell for millions in various places but black ink drawings will do well only in Asia, where there is a history of black ink scroll art.
After an analysis of art markets, we took a tour of the Ilya’s house and some of his work. True to himself and a very private man, he was quite nonchalant. He appreciated the admiration of his skill but wanted to get back to talking about the works of the younger generation.
We discussed the 2013 Venice Biennale and especially the Georgian Pavilion, one of the top ten pavilions of the year, and the art world. Ilya was impressed by Gio Sumbadze’s Kamikaze Loggia, built as a site specific installation, a sort of parasitic attachment to the Arsenal, similar to ones built in the 1990s outside of Georgian apartment buildings.
The thought that Georgian art was able to move past just the hanging of it on a wall, and into the realm of conceptual art, seemed to have energized my host. We spoke about the contemporary art world, the fake, the real, and the constant need for artists to develop their skills and ideas in order to move forward, not stay stagnant in art and life.
Ilya’s work has been in galleries all over the world. But while his works traveled around Europe from Switzerland to Spain, in 2011 his works were displayed with those of a few other prominent Georgian artists at the Modern Georgian Art Exhibition at the Arts Centre of “Nieuwspoort” in the Hague - Ilya himself never travelled anywhere.
A few years ago, Ilya went home to visit Tbilisi, and found it startlingly different. People had changed; after all it had been 20 years, and the city was suddenly full of modern architecture integrating with old Tbilisi and in a constant dialogue with the city. The art world in Georgia too had a feel of being energized into action, of trying to catch up with German and French art, and other global influences entering the mix with Georgian traditional art. 
Weary of the art market in the United States, where it may seem that dollars trump integrity or talent, the Ilya’s advice to young artists in Georgia is that sometimes home is the best place for an artist to be. By no means should an artist stay secluded in his room, but travel and learn and bring the knowledge and experience home, and create new works that will inspire another generation of artists to continue moving forward in art and in life.

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