Gantuya Badamgarav is one of the leading figures in Mongolian contemporary art. She is the founder and director of 976 Gallery, one of Mongolia’s most modern and popular galleries, and initiated the Mongolian Contemporary Art Support Association, which has helped numerous Mongolian artists achieve worldwide recognition.
First of all, can you introduce yourself a little bit? How long have you worked within the field of art?
I graduated as an economist. I studied economic policy in the former city of Leningrad, which was called such during the socialist period. Later I completed my masters in macroeconomic policy at Williams College in the United States.
I then worked in various international organizations and business orientated companies occupying strategic management positions.
I have been working and active in the field of art for five years.
I understand that you founded the Mongolian Contemporary Art Support Association and 976 Art Gallery? Could you tell us more about them?
When I first entered the art world, I entered thinking of it as a business and opened 976 Gallery here in Ulaanbaatar. However, within two months of running the gallery, I realized that the field isn’t very conducive for business, which made me consider halting my gallery and business, but by then I had come to greatly enjoy and love the art world.
After entering the art world, I realized three things initially. The first was that the field is not conducive for business, the second was that I had come to love it and was unable to leave it, and the third was that I discovered that I really enjoyed working with contemporary art and artists.
But this all also came with the realization that contemporary art today, and even in 10 years, won’t be profitable from a business perspective and that it needs a significant amount of support and development.
Thus, after the initial two months, I founded and established the Mongolian Contemporary Art Support Association.
I continued to run the gallery and the sales made from the gallery was and is still used to finance the main projects implemented by the association.
In regards to the association, my biggest goal is to introduce Mongolian artists to wider international markets.
When I first founded and established the association, Mongolian artists had reached the level where they were capable of being recognized internationally but remained unrecognized internationally due to a lack of support.
For example, they had yet to participate in the larger and more significantly well known international events. They had participated in events such as the Shanghai and Guangzhou Biennales, but not in larger events and I wanted to help them participate in such events.
I also wanted the association to be able to help Mongolian artists access projects and receive grants and to help them grow and develop as artists.
In regards to 976 Art Gallery, I wanted to host and display the newest and most experimental pieces, as well as maintain and constantly introduce new high standards.
This was met with great enthusiasm from Mongolian artists who showed that they had the drive and determination to reach and surpass these standards. And our viewers were some of the most creative minded of the younger generation who would wait in anticipation for our exhibitions.
We also used the gallery and the art in various mediums as a platform to raise public awareness about problems and issues such as economic, social and environmental issues.
For example, we released the series “Children Lost from Heaven”, which emphasized the sense of being lost between the “two heavens” and was an introspection into why such situations of loss occur.
Other examples include our efforts to highlight and raise awareness about air pollution in Mongolia, which was funded by the US Embassy in Mongolia and Coal Mining and its associated environmental and cultural damages.
How has the Mongolian Contemporary Art Support Association contributed in promoting Mongolian artists?
I can mention three to four large projects. The Venice Biennale, where we helped Mongolian artists participate in for two consecutive occasions. The first time was in 2015 and the next was this year (2017).
The documenta 14 exhibition, which is held in Germany, is as highly regarded internationally as the Venice Biennale. We helped Mongolian artists showcase at a documenta exhibition for the first time earlier this year.
The Asia Pacific Triennial, which we first had Mongolian contemporary artists participate in 2015, is currently in the planning phase and we are selecting the next group of Mongolian artists for 2018.
Hopefully, the aforementioned are good enough testaments of work for the last five years.
Who are the main supporters of the association? What type of funding has your association received?
The first Venice Biennale we organized in Mongolia was solely funded and supported by private businessmen. The support of these businesses was generously given and arranged by the former mayor of Ulaanbaatar, Bat-Uul. Minister Munkh-Orgil was instrumental in the support and funding of this year’s Venice Biennale, for which he helped secure 60 percent of the funding.
We’ve also received substantial support and funding from the US Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, the US Department of State, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Prince Claus Fund, Getty Foundation, Goethe Institute, which helped fund the expenses for six people during this year’s documenta 14 exhibition, the Pollock-Krasner Grant and many more.
What is your main goal for the future of Mongolian contemporary art?
I currently have two main goals.
The first is to support the development of Mongolian contemporary artists and to have them internationally recognized. This requires strategically important projects, such as biennales and triennials and a lot of focus.
And the second is to support and introduce exhibitions designed by Mongolian contemporary artists in international museums and galleries.
For this, we are currently in talks and discussions with various international museums and institutions, such as senior curators from Tate Modern, director of the New York MOMA, with whom we established correspondence with in 2015, and members of the Queensland Museum of Modern Art, who we are on very good terms with.
In your opinion, what types of Mongolian art hold the most appeal internationally?
In general, I see the most appeal seen towards pieces that incorporate more western contemporary techniques such as multimedia, installations, and performances. However, there are two types of Mongolian art that are creating a significant buzz internationally right now and are more popular within the global market.
The first is Nomadic or should be more appropriately termed Shamanic art. These types of Mongolian art don’t involve shamanism but emphasize the voices of and spiritual connection with nature.
The second is Thangkas – Mongolian pieces that incorporate or are based on techniques used to create Thangkas. These pieces usually comment on contemporary lifestyle and society, and portray scenes and issues more prevalent in contemporary art, but are made using traditional Mongolian painting techniques.
What is the biggest obstacle contemporary Mongolian artists face today?
The biggest obstacle is finding themselves as artists. From what I understand, in order for artists to find their inner voice and themselves as an artist, they have to spend a long time creating non-commercial pieces and constantly experiment with their craft.
This process of working as a non-commercial artist is a lengthy one that can take up to five to ten years, which is a challenge, because usually during this period the artists have to live on modest means.
But even though this presents a financial issue it is also a crucial period where they learn to become more patient and resilient, which is required of artists.
Lastly, any advice for aspiring artists?
I don’t know whether I can be inspiring. It’s hard to become an artist without talent or if the artist’s personal interest in their art is not strong enough. It is a tough field and career.
However, if you are really persistent, able to live modestly, and are self-contented with inner peace, it is a very amazing and interesting lifestyle. A lifestyle meant for a few people, but if you can find your place within the field and make peace with the lifestyle, it is a truly amazing accomplishment and well worth it.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to the reopening of 976 Gallery this fall.
Thank you again for speaking to me today, and be sure to come and see the gallery when it reopens. We will be reopening with a special exhibition that will showcase the work of a very talented Mongolian artist who resides in Paris.