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A Tsar is born (at Davos)
January 19, 1998: 11:47 a.m. ET

At economic forum, a Russian painter will hobnob with CEOs and sultans
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - As a struggling young painter in Leonid Brezhnev's humorless Soviet Union, Valery Tsarikovsky studiously avoided the imperial-sounding sobriquet that today graces his impressionistic canvases: "Tsar."
     "It wouldn't have been a good idea," joked Tsarikovsky, a Kiev native who moved to the U.S. with his wife in 1979 and now lives in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
     Next week, in a triumphant case of art imitating life imitating nickname, Tsarikovsky may indeed feel like an emperor when he steps off a Swiss Air flight from New York and into the welcoming embrace of the annual World Economic Forum at Davos.
     There, he will be one of seven largely unsung artists invited to display their artwork and hobnob with the participants as roving cultural emissaries to what may arguably be the most elite conclave of business acumen and egos on Earth. For three heady days, from Monday to Wednesday, Tsarikovsky will bask in a mini-celebrity spotlight as ethereal as any that suffuses his paintings of naturalistic landscapes.
    
A 20th century star chamber

     In the minds of naysayers, "Davos" symbolizes pinstripe plotting, a place where fatcats gather in star-chamber secrecy to plot the economic fates of men and nations. Last year, financier George Soros rocked the Davos boat when he appropriated its pulpit to issue a scathing indictment of Western-style capitalism that ignores poorer countries.
     Businesses pay an estimated $15,000 yearly in membership fees, plus an additional $18,000 to attend. Journalists are barred from covering the proceedings. The guest list is always an object of intense gossip and speculation - often up until the moment when the corporate jets touch down on the forum's doorstep, disgorging their special human cargo.
     Yet in a little-known sidebar to the forum, organizers have been serving up artworks and concerts to guests since 1991. This year, they will even supplement the menu with a "literary tea" at which Paul Coelho, author of the best-selling cult classic, "The Alchemist," about a young shepherd child, will read passages from his works in vintage poetry-jam fashion.
     The idea, says Maryse Zwick, the assistant to the forum's president, is to leaven the event's hard-edged business image with a dash of enlightenment from beyond the boardroom.
    
Missing a cultural dimension

     "Our annual meeting is a meeting for politicians and businessmen," said Zwick, modestly understating the scope of a forum that annually draws 2,000 of the world's business, political, social and cultural elite for three days of quiet dinners and negotiations in the foothills of a remote ski resort.
     "But there was just this cultural dimension that was missing, "she said. "We feel that the artists also have something to say. And after all, nowadays, the business leaders must be very creative."
     So too, must the organizers. Zwick said she had spent the past year, since the close of the last Davos forum, scouring the globe for contemporary artists anonymous enough -- yet talented enough -- to sate the sense of discovery of globe-trotting panjandrums like Bill Gates, the Sultan of Brunei, Warren Buffett and Prince Albert, to name a few.
     "What we want is always artists who are living," says Zwick, explaining her modus operandi for vetting out candidates. "We do not want paintings from artists that you can go see in a museum. …We try to find all different techniques, so that the participant can get to know what's being done these days and get to know the artist."
     Each arriving delegate to Davos this year will receive a full-color glossy brochure introducing them to the artists. During the forum, participants will be given an opportunity to attend a "Meet the Artist" session, a fleeting chance for harried CEOs and Nobel Prize winners alike to socialize with the palette-and-paintbrush set in a more intimate setting.
    
A potential gravy train?

     This year's artistic contingent spans a diverse spectrum of styles.
     It includes Tao Ho, a Hong Kong architect who designed the former colony's new Bauhinia-flower flag; Lee Yongcun, a traditional Chinese painter from Beijing's Central Academy of Arts and Design; James Rizzi, an American artist renowned for his three-dimensional montages of New York themes; Nissan Engel, an American specializing in blue-and-red collages with musical motifs; Herve Telemaque, a Paris resident originally from Haiti, who will be toting a "triptych" to Davos; a Swiss-based Peruvian sculptor, Claudia Koch; and Valery Tsarikovsky.
     While Davos bills itself as a strictly not-for-profit forum, it is a potential gravy train for the artists inducted into its glittery main hall at Davos's Congress Center.
     Tsarikovsky's ticket to Davos, for example, was a recommendation by Hilde Gerst, owner of the Hilde Gerst Gallery on Madison Avenue, in New York. Gerst, a doyenne among New York Art dealers who started collecting artwork more than half a century ago and has since built a formidable collection of impressionist canvasses, began selling Tsarikovsky's work a few years ago.
     He is, in the rarefied world of high-quality art dealing, an entry-level artist, whose works generally sell for under $10,000. Contemporary impressionists who are more established, Gerst says, can command a fetching price of $1 million or more.
     At Davos, dealers say, Tsarikovsky's works will likely start at about $15,000. "For Tsar, it will be a fantastic experience," Gerst says.
    
When senators are patrons

     But in many ways, the fantastic experience has already begun: Gerst says interested buyers have been snapping up the Russian's oil paintings in recent weeks almost as quickly as he can rewet his palette. "He was amazed. He brought me three paintings on Saturday," Gerst said. Those works are gone. Among the Russian painter's newest patrons is U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, who is expected to attend the Davos meeting.
     Tsarikovsky, for his part, speaks of his upcoming date with history with an air of detached expectancy. While he is excited to be going, the event does not carry the same connotations for him as it does for someone reared in a capitalist culture.
     When he first found he had been invited, Tsarikovsky said, "I couldn't react much because I had no idea what Davos was." A few friends on Wall Street filled him in. "They said it's some of the most important people in the world," Tsarikovsky recalled. "I've never been at this level."
     And what will he say if he suddenly finds himself pitted in an impromptu tete-a-tete with Bill Gates? And what if the Master of Microsoft takes a fancy to one of his paintings?
     "For me, I'm just proud when anybody shares with me what I feel [for my paintings]," Tsarikovsky said. "I'll just try to be myself and if he asks me questions, I'll be glad to share my views. I always feel we have to do our best. Art, in a way, is also unique."
     --By staff writer Douglas HerbertBack to top

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