Alexander Gurman is arguably one of the most interesting people on the modern-day art scene. A wealthy businessman, Alexander is a banker, model manager, and fashion designer who has always had an interest in the arts. With enough money to do as he pleases, Alexander has turned his focus on a gallant cause: helping under-represented artists gain acclaim and sales.
Alexander runs a magazine, YouTube interview series, advertising agency, and promotion firm that aims to help artists get recognized in the international art market with little to no cost to the actual artist. Alexander is sympathetic to the plight of emerging artists who often do not have extra spending money largely due to the fact that he is also a creative person who has a specific interest in comedy. In fact, Alexander has created a humorously rude character known as “Mr. Great”–directly inspired by “Borat” and Donald Trump–who plays the role of the interviewer in his artist interview series on YouTube. Moreover, Alexander has used his position as a modeling agency manager to set-up “candid camera” type situations where unsuspecting guests are invited to seemingly traditional fashion shows only to find themselves bearing witness to outrageous commentary and stunts by the performers and Alexander, who hosts these events in the character of “Mr. Great”.
A dedication to the arts and performance runs in Alexander’s blood. His great-grandfather was Nathan Feldman, a personal friend and photographer of the famed Rothschild family at the verge of 1910 in Palestine. Nathan also also knew Einstein. In fact, Nathan was one of the first photographers in the USSR and the only photographer in Odessa, Ukraine, for a decade. Alexander’s grandfather–Nathan’s son-in-law–was also involved with entertainment, having been an impresario for USSR circus scene who became famous for managing circuses throughout the USSR for more than fifty years. Moreover, Gary was well-respected in his community and often played the role as the judge for resolving conflicts for matters that traditional courts were unwilling to deal with. Gary helped many people in his lifetime and his legacy lives. Now, more than thirty years after his passing, Alexander will still occasionally get favors from people who are grateful for his grandfather’s deeds. Meanwhile, Alexander’s father, Efroim Gurman, is a distinguished academic who has published numerous books and secured a variety of patents and his mother is a musician who has performed all over the world.
Having come from such a distinguished and wealthy family, Alexander grew up feeling overshadowed by his famous relatives yet his privileged youth gave him the opportunity to attend the best schools. Today, many of his classmates are powerful people in business; mostly of the science and technology fraction. Due to these connections, Alexander personally knows many rich and powerful people such as scientist Dmitry Fisher, hedge fund manager Igor Desyatnikov, Intel engineer Yuri Krimon, and many more. Knowing these well-connected individuals helps Alexander make way to find avenues for artists to show their work since wealthy people tend to be the most prominent collectors of art–especially new art.
Alexander graduated from Odessa State University and Baruch College and worked at several major banks including HSBC and Chase. Now semi-retired from banking, he lives primarily in the Manhattan Beach section of Brooklyn with his wife, Lana, and their two children. Alexander likes to travel, fish and sail as well as engage in a number of other hobbies. Although he has many interests, he is most fixated on the idea that the “traditional” gallery and agent system that has defined the art industry for decades is now outdated and can be reinvented to be more artist-focused.
Alexander recently discussed his incredible career and life as well as the many ways that he is helping creative individuals find success:
Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: You have worked in banking, real estate, and model management. Given that varied background, how did you get so interested in artwork?
Alexander Gurman (AG): I did work in banking for fourteen years, but I did not work in real estate, just own properties as far as model management that is something that because a viable business only when our calendars and pageants and model competitions became more popular with sponsors. The art was and is always essential part of my life, from my childhood my grandparents and my parents always had a number of prominent artists at our home, my father and grandfathers have collected art so I enjoy admiring art at home, it is something that makes me feel alive.
MM: You also own a lot of companies that involve fishing. Are you a big fan of fishing? If so, does your interest in nature impact your taste in art at all?
AG: Yes, I have diverse interests and fishing and camping are a big part of my life. Nature is beautiful by itself, I have learned to find inspirations in simple things like wind, sky, fire, water. Fishing is another form of art, it is where nothing matters, it is you and a fish. As fish fights for its life, it is like in art: everyone is equal in front of the fish. Fish does not care how much money you have, what tackle do you use, you either capable to catch it or not. Like in art there are so many variables that affect person admiration for art. Either you like it or not, or it can grow on you. Like some of my hobbies, collecting art became part of me when I was young and, now that I have means to live, I put more time and interest in my childhood dreams. Of course, making money from selling my fishing tackle products and my arts helps, I love to collect royalties and passive income especially when it comes from something that I love to do.
MM: You and your wife are currently building a mansion–and you are designing the house around the art that you want to display there! What art is going to be on display in your home and how did you meet the artists?
AG: We are in a process of building a complicated architectural property at historical Greenwood Lake, NY. The property that I have purchased is a cliff over the lake and we are working to secure permits to have the house hang on the side of the cliff over the lake. We are also working with an architect to have the stream of water to fall over the roof so we can live under the waterfall when it’s a heavy rain. As per my wife, Lana, we have decided to design the house around the art collection rather than design house interior, buy furniture and then look what art we can fit in. Our family owns a substantial part of the Nikolai Novikov collection, the artist has passed away so we want to make an exhibition of his art as a centerpiece of the retreat.
Nikolai Novikov’s life story belongs in a movie and our family connection to his heritage has a place in history. Novikov was a prominent artist in USSR with talent that USSR could not handle so the authorities actually damaged his brains and put him in mental institution! Out of admiration for the artist, my father started to collect his work. We managed to bring some of his work with us when we immigrated and we have the rest of the vast collection in storage back in Ukraine. I have a few more collections by a few other artists that we plan to exhibit on different floors of the property based on the mood that we want to create on certain days.
MM: You run a magazine that artists can advertise in for free! How does that work and what was the process of establishing the magazine like?
AG: I am a co-founder of the not-for-profit 501k charity RAKCC– Russian American Kennel and Cattery Club–and I have commercial corporation Tree Media Inc, the synergy between two entities allow me have the best of both worlds. The proposition to the artist is in the drop shipment business model.
I sign an agreement with an artist when the artist allows me to publish a picture of the work that is cropped without the artist’s signature, name, or any reference to the artists. I display the work without any reference to artists, if someone wants to buy a painting, sculpture, or print than clients pay me, I pay the artist and the artist ships the artwork to the client. Only then do we reveal to the collector the name of the artist and the story behind the art peace. After that, the client can start collecting art directly from the artist.
The system is pretty fair. Because clients do not buy a brand or name, clients buy the work without any marketing efforts on the artist part. If the client likes the work they buy it; all artists are equal at the market place. There is no cost to artist to be featured in my magazine and I have no storage fees. I do not take a possession of art, only if I sell the art do the artists get the money and ships the art to the collector. In some instances, for safety reasons, we ask artist to ship art to us and we ship to collector.
MM: You also have the ability to get art placed in public spaces like on the wrappings of construction sites. How much does this cost artists and how did you get access to these locations?
AG: Yes, what we do is that we take a picture of the artist’s work before the exhibition and print fliers, posters and in public spaces where placard are legal we glue them to the walls. If the exhibition takes place in popular with tourists, locations like Midtown or Soho, then it drives a traffic to the gallery and to specific artists.
I just worked with ARTS Expo and a few artists hired my services. We charged $500 to print 500 postcards of 32 inch by 24 inch and $1,500 dollars to glue them in the ratios of a few blocks around exhibition. Because one artist was from Russia and quite popular there, a wealthy tourist from Russia saw a familiar name, came to an exhibition, and purchased two paintings, one at $60k and the other at $30k! The artist found the additional investment of $2k into that marketing strategy profitable, because without it, they would not be able to sell those two paintings. We also display arts at various car dealerships, bars, and places that replicate the function of a gallery. We try to place arts in places where people go anyway, it is the win-win for artist, space owners and me as the entity that facilitates the deal.
MM: You also interview artists on a video series. When you interview them, you do so in your alter ego “Mr. Great”. Who is Mr. Great and how is his character different from your actual personality?
AG: I love comedy, satire, parody and as part of my TV series I have created a series of characters, the first character is “Mr. Great.” Mr. Great was inspired by “Mr. Wonderful” from “The Shark Tank” Kevin O’Leary as well as by Donald Trump, Andy Kaufman with character Tony Clifton and the Borat character by Sasha Baron Cohen. By the way, Cohen also started his comedian carrier on Public Access TV! For me, coming from the banking world, it is fun to portray the ultra-ego of Mr. Great.
The reason why I take the interview as Mr. Great with artists is that I create a sympathy for the artist when I attack the artist with vulgar and barbarian jokes. It provides a platform to have the audience associate and care for the artist. I play a villain on that set. I have two more characters that I will reveal soon and they will complement the series.
Mr. Great is a republican versus me, I am democrat. Mr. Great is charismatic and bigger than life, I am actually a shy and very private person. Mr. Great is does not care for decency and nobility, I care for honor. I would never call myself great, that is very egotistic and narcissistic, I think of myself as a humble decent person. I want to mess with chauvinistic audience that is my way of getting at them.
MM: You have arranged fashion shows that double as “Borat” type comedies where the audience does not initially realize that the event they are watching is a staged joke. What kind of antics go on at these events, what kinds of reactions have you gotten from the audience, and how did you get interested in doing comedy?
AG: When I produce Mr. Great events we announce that we will have a competition between Russian and Ukrainian models to decide which land gave birth to the most beautiful women. We announce that we will select who is prettier–Jewish models or Muslim models, and we create a platform for chauvinistic people who watch Miss Universe and other pageants and vote for their blood or country, who think they are better than someone else. In reality, we mix all the girls together! Russians and Ukrainians, the audience cannot tell actually which girl is from what country or if she is Jewish or Muslim. We chose Middle Eastern looking participants because, that way, we deprive people the opportunity to say who is better.
Our mission is to include everyone. There are a lot of wars between Russia and Ukraine, Muslim countries and Israel. We are for peace and that is our way of saying that people who live to find dominance and better their cause are the butt of the joke. When we do a show, we do not announce our true intentions. We do it so the audience thinks it is just another fashion show, another pageant, but we use small Go-Pro cameras to collect footage of the audience’s reactions. Our most common jokes are following:
We have a young girl who is 21 years old but looks like she is 15. She comes often with her grandfather. The girl sits on grandpa’s laps, they hug, kiss, the audience thinks that is a sugar daddy!
We have another model who comes with her husband and when she is on the runway, her husband incidentally stands next to the stage and bends over to tie his shoe laces when she walks. Then the wife slaps the husband’s ass on her way and he falls! That is not sexual harassment, that is a parody on a real one.
We provoke audience when models carry “Make America Great Again” flags, when we have older models on stage, when we have plus size models, we have pregnant models, disabled models, models with tattoos We believe woman are beautiful as they are and the old way of doing fashion only with skinny tall blonds should go away. We are in the future when we have accepted all shapes, all ages, all skin colors in our community, we change stereotypes. We make people think and question the old way of doing things. We think that we promote American values.
MM: You have said that you design clothing. What kinds of clothes do you design and where are they sold? Do the models you represent ever wear your garments?
AG: I make glow in the dark fashion collections! I work in the modify cloth space. The business model is following: I go on aliexpress and see what cloth is the most popular in the coming season, dresses, shoes, scarf’s, hats, wedding gowns, pants, swimwear, lingerie, winter cloth, purses, etc. I buy them in bulk. Then I sew the fluorescent beads on them in various shapes. Most of my sewing personal is disabled, and cannot find any other work, I bring them cloth, beads and take it back when they done. I sell my collections on Amazon, Ebay, as well as in various stores and boutiques in Moscow, Kiev, LA, NYC.
I keep the original label and add my label, that way I do not steal anyone’s work, just modify it, and make it different. My clients love the glow in the dark effect, when someone walks into a Broadway show and the lights are off but my clients still glow for another forty seconds it’s really cool.
Girls and guys love to come to pool parties at night and be the only person whose clothes will glow. When you see my fashion shows, I have different symbols on cloth. You need to see the whole show in order to read full message. All the models together complete the message. I have Jewish, Christian and Muslim messages as well as messages from other cultures. It is a peaceful message.
MM: You have said that you want to re-invent the art industry by finding innovative ways that artists can promote their work without spending much money. How, exactly, do you plan to change the present art system?
AG: I think of myself as someone like Amazon or Uber, I want to change the old way of doing things. I think artists are perceived as always starving and galleries and art dealers are fat with money and control. I want to change that. I want to put the bulk of the income into the artist’s hands rather than to middle men who do not create value as much as an artist. Nowadays, with new technologies, artist can sell directly to clients via eBay, Amazon and other platforms. I want to add more tools at artist disposal so artist can control his/her destiny.
I let artists sell their work via drop shipment system, I help artists to network with architects, interior designers, and others. I let artists display their work at my fashion shows and my pageants and model competitions. I offer a print services for artists at a fraction of cost that traditional outlets offer. I produce interviews on public access TV and YouTube studios in Google at the Chelsea market.
Anyone who is interested is welcome to contact me and I will show many other ways how we do nontraditional marketing. We strive to cut out the middle men and give the power to the artist, develop the artist, and help artists with marketing and sales. Artists can read my books on negotiations and bargaining and on the art world.
MM: You work with interior designers to help them find art. Have you found this to be an essential way to sell art?
AG: Yes, like my wife said, we first buy the centerpiece art for the retreat and then we design everything else around the art, furniture, color of the walls, etc. The art is first and the house is second, it is like the work should be more important than the packaging. I look at the house as a package and art as the gift inside. The package match to the gift inside not the other way around.
MM: What are your biggest goals for the future and what other events and projects are coming up for you soon?
AG: Right now, I am tackling the liquor industry, I think it is unfair and chauvinistic that every drink is named after male names (Jack, Daniel, etc.) so I am creating a line of custom liquor where each artist, each model, gets her own label (males as well) on bottle, on the package. We go out to the wineries and do the tasting and create specific taste for each artist that I develop and then we sell and give away bottles with our artist name as a brand. If a client wants to taste the artist they cannot literally without buying their art. At least now clients can buy Eugeny Vodka or Alexander Gurman tequila, or red wine and taste the artist so to speak!
I am also now in the process of creating an artist fragrance line that is geared towards children and is age driven rather than sex driven. Let me explain. When I come home, I know my wife loves me and the way I smell but I also want to smell good for my daughter who is fifteen and my son who is four now. So, the way I want to smell is not sexual but comfortable for my children. The other perfume I use when I go to see my father and mother, I am not planning to smell sexy to them, I want to smell a way that they will like, that is why it is age driven fragrance line.
Nowadays with custom smells it is easy to produce a few bottles of perfume rather than making it in thousands. Every time I produce a new liquor or perfume line, the featured artist will collect royalties from each sale of the bottle or the jar for that matter. It is easy to trace now. Like you probably have a bank account, right? If I ask you to show to me your current balance and transactions on Skype and you have $10k on account, you cannot pretend that you have $5 or $5 million; whatever the computer will show cannot be Photo-shopped. It’s the same here: transparency is the key. That way artists can branch out to branding and display their art on healthy food, on healthy drinks, perfume, and other products and every time custom-design product sells, the artist gets paid.
My other current project is the Russian Model Competition. I am working on various private art showings that are not open or available to the public. We shot in 8k red dragon cameras and are moving to 16k red cameras so very exclusive clients can see that content.
I am also working with a group of billionaire families that require our deals to be private. When I go to service those clients, I sign contracts with lawyers that penalties over $25 million in case I disclose details and they take away my cell phone and all memory cards from my cameras so all the work I do with them stay very private. I often do not know where I am going, when, and what I will be doing. It is very private business.
MM: How can artists be featured on your video series or in your magazine? Can people reach out to you directly?
AG: Yes, my cell number is 917 825 8225. My email is Alexander@AlexGurman.com and I have over 600 pages on Facebook alone and have more on other social media platforms!
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To learn more about Alexander Gurman, visit his Fine Art Facebook page here. To read about his Art Magazine, see here. To hear about his Modeling Agencies, see here and here. To learn about his Glow in the Dark Fashions, see here.