LONDON - Following Sotheby’s hugely successful pioneering London sale of Russian Contemporary Art in February, 2007 – the Company’s best-ever year for sales of Russian Art – on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 Sotheby’s will hold its second ever sale in this category in London. Comprising more than 150 lots which range in media from fine art to sculpture and photography, the works selected for sale not only span the second half of the 20th century, but also include compositions by some of Russia’s most successful and talented young artists produced since the year 2000, up to the present day. Among others, artists featured include Eric Bulatov, Andrei Molodkin, Alexander Kosolapov, Vitaly Komar, Alexander Melamid, Oleg Vassiliev, Ivan Chuikov, and the cutting-edge collective of four artists AES+F, whose works have been exhibited at Tate Britain and recently short-listed for the Kandinsky Prize in Russia. The entire sale is estimated to realise in excess of £2.6 ($5.2) million.
Commenting on the market for Russian Contemporary Art and the forthcoming London sale, Jo Vickery, Senior Director and Head of Sotheby’s Russian Art Department in London, said: “The success of Sotheby’s pioneering sale last February propelled this emerging market onto the international map for the first time. Now Russian Contemporary Art at auction is in its second year of growth, and we hope to build on the many outstanding, hitherto unprecedented prices which were achieved last year. We are also bringing more breadth to the selection of artists we are selling, with a growing emphasis not just on non-conformist artists of the preceding generation, but the sale will include works by top artists working in Russia today. The art we offer in the March sale has a global outlook and reflects Russia’s own rich cultural heritage and recent history, and comes from collections in Russia and all over the rest of Europe. We are delighted to have been able to bring these works together for sale, and exhibit them in Moscow.”
The highest value work in the auction is Before the Sunset by the non-conformist artist Oleg Vassiliev (b. 1931), and it is one of three works by the artist in the sale. Produced in 1990, just a year after Vassiliev’s emigration to the United States, this oil on canvas is one of his very early political-historical works. The use of the window is a key factor in his work and was a theme that developed in his and Erik Bulatov’s studio in Moscow, where wide windows opened onto the vast space of city roofs.
Just as in icon painting, the perspective of Before the Sunset is reversed – all the light comes from within the pictorial infinity which opens the windows, almost like an explosion towards the viewer.
Before the Sunset is estimated at £200,000-£300,000 ($393,000-590,000). Another major highlight is Vassiliev’s Walking Away, which is estimated at £50,000-70,000 ($98,500-138,000). Executed in 1978, Walking Away is an exceptional painting which shows the diversity of Vassiliev’s creative style. The artist’s use of light and shade – a recurring subject in many of his compositions – points to the work’s psychological dimension, with light symbolising memories from the past, and darkness the unknown future. The painting also combines constructivist form with traditional Russian realism and brings them together in a context of time. Well known for having collaborated with ‘Sots Art’ artist Erik Bulatov, Vassiliev was also influenced by the leading Soviet graphic artist Vladimir Favorsky (1886-1964). He also trained as a book designer at the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow, following in the footsteps of Ilya Kabakov.
The sale also includes two lots by AES+F, the cutting-edge collective of four artists whose works represented Russia at the 2007 Venice Biennale. During the past twenty years AES+F – which comprises the initial three members Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich and Evgeny Svyatsky, who were later joined by Vladimir Fridkes – has forged an outstanding reputation for challenging the boundaries of what contemporary art can achieve, using a highly a impressive spectrum of varying media. Their works have never before appeared on the secondary market.
The collective’s bronze Warrior No. 4, which was executed in 2006 and is estimated at £100,000-150,000 ($197,000-295,000), is the second highest value work in the sale. Resplendent in shining gold, the sculpture portrays both the privilege of childhood as well as the objectification of youth as one of the most highly traded commodities in today’s society.
The bronze is a perfect example of AES+F’s goal to combine aesthetics with cutting-edge thematic enquiry and extraordinary technical accomplishment. This exceptional work of art is also seminal to the artists’ highly-acclaimed Action Half-Life Series.
From their well known series Last Riot 2, Tondo No. 15 is another important work to be offered for sale, and this piece is characteristic of the very best digital collages that AES+F has been perfecting for over ten years, since their groundbreaking keynote work AES - Witnesses the Future. Islamic Project (1996). The digital print on canvas, measuring 150cm in diameter, was executed by the collective in 2006 and is from an edition of five plus three artists' proofs. The work is estimated to realise £25,000-30,000 ($49,100-59,000).
Another important work is the oil on board with collage, Untitled, by Ivan Chuikov (b. 1935), one of Russia’s first truly conceptual artists. During Chuikov’s earliest artistic output in the late 1960s and early 70s, he tried to resolve the conflict between fiction and reality and the problem of visual language as a tool to express it. Untitled is estimated at £15,000-20,000 ($29,500-39,300).
A further work in the sale by Chuikov is his The Window, which is one of a group of ten non-conformist works – by some of Russia’s most important artists – that have come from a private European collection put together in the 1980s whilst the collectors lived and worked in Russia. Other lots in the collection – all of which were acquired directly from the artists – include works by Vladimir Yankilevsky (b. 1938), Eduard Gorokhovsky (1929-2004), Ilya Kabakov (b. 1933) and Vladimir Nemukhin (b. 1925). Like the non-conformists Igor Makarevich and Oleg Vassiliev, Chuikov attempted to articulate the conflict between illusion, representation and real space and used the window as a device to challenge the Renaissance understanding of art as a 'window on the world'. The oil on board, The Window, is estimated at £20,000-30,000 ($39,300-59,000).
The sale also includes Erik Bulatov’s (b. 1933) Do not Lean, which is one of two works in the auction by the artist – Russia’s most important ‘Sots Art’ artist. The ‘Sots Art’ movement was inspired by artists such as Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid and it was formed towards the end of the Brezhnev era. The group devised a new form of art which was influenced by pop artists such as Andy Warhol and parodied Socialist Realist art, and became increasingly popular, dominating the underground art agenda.
Do not Lean, dated 1984, is a preparatory sketch for Bulatov's 1987 oil of the same name and illustrates the artist's fascination with the intentional juxtaposition of visual images and a contrary textual meaning; in this instance an image of freedom superimposed with a sign of curtailment. The crayon on paper has come from a private European collection and was acquired by the present owner directly from the artist in the late 1980s. It is a fine example of ‘Sots Art’, and is estimated at £12,000-18,000 ($23,600-35,400).