Written by By Cat Powell, CNN
Oleg Kelin, David Rosenberg, Adrian Sparks
Oleg Kelin, chairman and managing director of Independent Associates, owned and operated by Astral Group in Moscow, Russia, has died after a lengthy illness. He was 79.
Elected chairman of Independent Associates in 1992, Kelin was responsible for the company’s charitable activities, including the international branch of Astral Art
Kelman was considered one of the most influential art dealers of his generation, and fostered relationships with Russia’s most recognizable figures, such as Yury Vitishko, Eduard Plakovsky, Anatoli Khristenko, Sergei Lesotsky, Oleg Tsybnytky, and Vladimir Vysotsky.
Prior to his retirement in 2008, Kelin had spent 40 years working at Independent Associates, according to Anatoly Minina, the firm’s director.
Like many of the other titans of Russian art, Kelin, along with his wife Svetlana, were noted philanthropists, frequently serving as hosts to private art auctions. Kelin was known for planning affairs as elaborate as the summer parties at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow, and benefitting educational institutions throughout Russia.
Prior to being born in 1932, Kelin was considered one of the most prominent artists in the former Soviet Union. His work centered on socialist realism, drawing from his background as an engineer.
Despite being a highly regarded artist in Russia, he was largely unknown in the West before he moved to New York in the 1960s. As Kelin envisioned, Independent Associates made his work accessible to the public and allowed him to develop work that could travel across borders.
Oleg Kelin in 2011. Credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Following the Soviet regime’s fall, Kelin, along with many other prominent artists, was exiled to Romania. A supporter of the Iron Curtain, he also collaborated with independent artists, largely Russian, throughout Europe and North America.
After his visa expired, Kelin returned to Russia in 1992 and opened the Independent Associates branch in Moscow. Kelin never lost his love for art, and spent the past decade in an unlikely relationship with Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella. Kelin was close friends with Nadella and frequently met up with him in New York City, making small changes to the name of the Russian branch of Astral Arts. Kelin’s widow, Svetlana, also agreed to the change.