Ten Prominent People | Raymond Johnson

Owner of Overland Gallery • Scottsdale, AZ
Founder of the Museum of Russian Art • Minneapolis, MN

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the art world during your career? My wife, Susan, and I have owned Overland Gallery in Scottsdale since 1983. Although our permanent residence is in Minneapolis, we have had the pleasure of spending time each year at our home in the beautiful city of Scottsdale. During the nearly 30 years of being in the Overland Gallery, I’ve witnessed a number of changes, but perhaps the more important observation as I look back is what has not changed. The most consistent characteristic of the wonderful clients we have served over the years is their pursuit of artworks of high quality.

What was your impetus to bring Russian art to the gallery? It is that very desire to provide quality works that led us to introduce 20th-century Russian art into our gallery. We spent two years in the late 1980s researching the subject before we made a decision, by hiring 12 art historians from the various parts of the former Soviet Union to lead us to the artists we should collect. Given the traditionally high international reputation accorded Russian artists in ballet, theater, music, literature, and other fine arts, it was reasonable to expect a similar level of expertise in Russian painting. The collection includes works from the most gifted artists of the era. Over the past decade we have loaned selected portions of our collection to a variety of American and Russian museums, universities, and cultural institutions for exhibition and education. Most notable have been a joint exhibition with the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow in 2003; an exhibition at the Smithsonian International Gallery in Washington, DC, in 2005; and an educational exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2005. More than 55 exhibitions were organized in 38 different museums across the globe.

Why did you start the Museum of Russian Art? Susan and I were happy to be instrumental in the founding of the Museum of Russian Art, a nonprofit museum and educational center, which has, since 2002, mounted a continuous program of exhibitions and lectures. The museum draws between 40,000 and 50,000 people each year. We believe the exhibitions of Russian paintings from the Soviet era provide Americans with a unique historical and artistic view of the Russian people; they reflect the beauty of the Russian country and the aspirations of a people that supersede decades of international political, economic, and military confrontation.

Of what accomplishments are you most proud? In September of 2004, I was named an honorary consul of the Russian Federation. On January 19, 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded me the Order of Friendship in recognition of 20 years of efforts to enhance cultural understanding between Russia and the United States. The Order of Friendship is the highest honor given by the Russian Federation to a non-Russian individual. What this meant to me was that they were proud of what we were doing and not angry about our having a large part of 
their art history.

Featured in May 2012.