To read the article in pdf format: Simon Hewitt’s round up of the Russian art world
CALVERT 22: CLUB OF FRIENDS Leningrad’s multifaceted artistic explosion of the 1980s, led by the late and iconic Timur Novikov, has been the subject of blockbuster shows in St Petersburg (Marble Palace) and Moscow (MMoMA Yermoleyevskaya), but remains little known in the West. A concise but elegant overview at London’s Calvert 22 repairs the damage (through May 25). Calvert 22: http://calvert22.org ERARTA: MAY FAIR Amidst whirwlind changes to Erarta’s international personnel over the past 12 months, Beth Morrow remains a beacon of Berkeley Street stability as head of the global conglomerate’s London operations. Her current show, punningly and precociously entitled May Fair, is an eclectic, somewhat disjointed mix of works by eleven Russian contemporary artists and, although tarred by the inevitable Shorins, attractively displayed (through May 27). Erarta Gallery: http://www.erartagalleries.com GRAD: TAINT GRAD gallery in London’s Little Portland Street has made an instant mark with its stylish exhibitions inspired by early Soviet Design – most recently (January–March) Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen, charmingly evoking Russia’s freewheeling, if not exactly roaring, pre-Stalinist 1920s. GRAD’s next exhibition, Taint (ended May 3), trod bravely but unconvincingly into the world of contemporary art, with works by five British and five Russian artists – two of whom (London’s Hannah Campion and Moscow’s Katya Sivers) doubled as the show’s curators. Whether that spelt a conflict of interests is hard to say, but the result was more mess than mesh. GRAD: http://www.grad-london.com BAKER MAMONOVA GALLERY (ST LEONARD’S) This airy new Russian Art gallery was opened in St Leonard’s, next to Hastings on England’s Channel Coast, in October 2013 by Moscow-born Olga Mamonova and her Lancastrian artist husband Russell Baker. It also includes a café (open daily) and a grandiose adjacent cinema built in 1911 which, after renovation, will screen Russian films. The Baker Mamonava Gallery (in operation since 2000) also has another venue in Wandsworth, which remains open by appointment. Baker Mamonova Gallery: http://olgamamonova.wix.com/russianartspace#!contact/czpl RUSSIAN TEA ROOM (PARIS): OLEG DOU Paris-based dealer Liza Fetisova has moved up in the world, and down from Pigalle to the Marais, since I first met her in 2008. The latest show at her Russian Tea Room (ended May 3) was devoted to one of her flagship photographers, Oleg Dou – whose cool, high-gloss style has much in common with that of his friend and contemporary, Katerina Belkina (see below). Dou’s Eight-Year Retrospective at RTR comprised 14 large photographs from runs of six-nine prints, priced €9,000-24,000 (for Pinocchio and Batman, both numbered 5/6 and measuring a hefty 180 x 180cm). Dou has also recently branched into the world of kitschy ceramics (AES+F come to mind), 4 of which were also available, priced from €3,500–€15,000. Russian Tea Room Gallery: http://www.rtrgallery.com/html.php?lang=en&id=1
ART PARIS (MARCH 27-30)ART PARIS, founded in 1999, is the French capital’s number two contemporary art fair after FIAC. Like FIAC it is staged in the Grand Palais – a glass-roofed Belle Epoque landmark halfway down the Champs-Elysées – but, unlike FIAC, it features a number of galleries specializing in Russian art (Russia was guest country at Art Paris in 2013). Four galleries travelled from Russia to take part in this year’s fair: Name gallery from St Petersburg, and three from Moscow. Iragui displayed a wallful of graphic art, headlined by Nikita Alexeyev: an early but somewhat neglected Conceptualist, whose skilful ink and watercolour drawings were on offer for just €1750. Also available were Dari Krotova, Georgy Litichevyk, Valeria Nibiru, Ivan Razumov, Olga Soldatova and Sergey Anufriev (with witty, recent ink drawings priced at €1100). Roza Azora, meanwhile, had a monochrome stand fronted by an Ira Waldron textile hanging and lined with paintings by Ivan Lungin. But it was prints of intricate black-and-white architectural landscapes by Ivan Yazykov – inspired, one feels, by the 1980s work of Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin – that attracted most attention. Vigorous recent works by the great Valery Koshlyakov dominated the Pechersky stand, including his take on Ingres’ famous Reclining Odalisque – echoed by a Fauve-toned interpretation of the same work by Andrei Sharov on the stand of Oxana Salamatina (New York), whose initial application to take part in Art Paris was rejected, but who cajoled the organizers into rethinking by promising a vibrant, three-part display on the theme of The Portrait, which also included works by British artist Graham Dean and American photographer Andres Serrano. Four other international galleries specializing in Russian art were present at Art Paris. Lilya Zakirova, who founded her gallery in Holland back in 1996 and is now based in Heusden near ’s-Hertogenbosch, had humorous works by Rauf Mamedov and Uzbek artist Anwar Abdullayev, along with an ample selection of photographs by Katerina Belkina – from both her Empty Spaces series (2010-11) and the 2006-08 Paint series that propelled her to fame with their self-portrait reinterpretations of famous paintings; those paying homage to Petrov Vodkin and Tamara de Lempicka have since acquired cult status. Political satire underpinned the selection at Blue Square (Washington) where, along with a pitcher of his trademark oil fronted by the President’s smugly stylized features, Andrei Molodkin ventured into the world of portraiture with two giant biro-on-paper visions of Vladimir Putin sticking a finger (rather than thumb) up at western opinion. Meanwhile Evgeny Fiks, an artist Diane Beal has espoused since her gallery operated in Paris a few years ago, was represented by a work from his Kimjongilia series of square-formatted paintings of begonias – the flower associated with the late, little lamented North Korean dictator. Nadja Brykina (Zurich), with vigorous works by Marlene Schindler, and Russky Mir (Paris), with assertive still lifes by Yuri Ghelman, completed the Russian line-up.
RESULTSSotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams all staged sales of Russian works of art in New York in early April. Bonhams auction on April 10 was devoted to the collection of Russian icons assembled by New Yorker Laurence A. Steinhardt (1892-1950), U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union during World War II. The 62 icons, spanning the 16th-20th centuries, totalled $1.34m (£795,000) to be 96% sold by value and 79% by lot; many of the icons are now set to return to Russia. Six sold for $100,000 or over, led by a late 16th century Deesis Row Icon from Rostov Veliky at $245,000 (£145,000). An early 18th century three-part icon from Moscow, featuring Christ Emanuel flanked by two Archangels, fetched $227,000 (£135,000); and a folding triptych made in the Kremlin workshop in the 1650s, the central panel with the Smolensk Mother of God, brought $173,000 (£102,500). Christie’s 149-lot sale on April 9 brought $2.34m (£1.39m) to be 62% sold by volume – well short of the $5.16m they grossed in April 2013 (from 166 lots). There were, however, outstanding prices for two pieces in cloisonné enamel: $161,000 (£955,000) for a three-handled cup by Rückert of Moscow (1899-1908); and $143,000 (£85,000) for this kovsch, marked Fabergé over the Rückert hallmark, featuring an enamelled plaque with a miniature version of Vasnetsov’s famous Knight at the Crossroads. Sculpture was the other stand-out feature of the sale, with an 1880 bronze bust of Repin, again by Vasnetsov, taking $112,000 (£66,500); and Mark Antokolsky’s white marble bust of Ivan The Terrible (1877) heading the sale on $269,000 (£159,000). Sotheby’s – who now incorporate Russian works of art into their New York Spring sale of European Silver – offered 167 Russian lots on April 8, yielding $2.15m (£1.27m) and 65% sold by volume. An icon of the Crucifixion & Passion signed Fedor Timofeev (Moscow 1833) caused a surprise by claiming $233,000 (£138,000) against an estimate of just $9000, but perhaps the day’s most spectacular offering was this Fabergé enamel cigarette case (Moscow 1908-17) painted with Vasnetsov’s Battle of the Scythians and once owned by Colonel Oleg Pantiukhov, founder of the Russian Scout movement. It claimed $87,500 (£52,000). ELSEWHERE Ahead of Russian Art Week in London at the start of June, a number of other international salerooms have been offering Russian pictures and works of art. Koller of Zurich, the Vienna Dorotheum and the Hôtel Drouot in Paris were among the venues active in recent weeks. Some sample highlights: Ivan Choultse: Winter Landscape in Sunshine, 55 x 66cm: at a double-estimate CHF 192,000 (£130,000), the most expensive of several Choultse landscapes offered at Koller (Zurich) on 28 March 2014 Early 20th century porcelain egg, 11cm high, featuring St John the Evangelist after Vasnetsov: €8125 (£6700) – Dorotheum (Vienna) 10 April 2014 Elena Petrovna Samokish-Sudovskaya: Nikolai II and His Family (1902), watercolour 18 x 31cm: €6250 (£5150) – Dorotheum (Vienna) 8 April 2014 A 1932 Serebriakova pastel of Children in Marrakesh fetched €60,000 at Boisgirard-Antonini in Paris on April 9 This quartz seal featuring the arms of Russian and Denmark, used by Grand-Duchess Olga (1860-1922), future Queen of Greece, took €3500 at Coutau-Bégarie in Paris on April 28
LONDON HIGHLIGHTSPavel Kuznetsov’s colourful view of Bukhara (c.1919) is expected to head MacDougall’s sale on June 4, with an estimate of £1.9-3m. Two other paintings could clear the £1m barrier here: Larionov’s Pines & Silver Birches from 1906 (est. £700,000-£1.2m); and Robert Falk’s Boy with Cap, painted a few years later (est. £800,000-£1.2m). Contemporary highlight is Komar & Melamid’s 1993 Lenin Hailing a Cab in New York (est. £120,000-180,000). Christie’s (June 2) have two works for which they anticipate seven-figure bids: Vereschagin’s view of the Pearl Mosque of Agra in northern India from around 1880 (est. £1-1.5m); and Lentulov’s 1913 Landscape with Bridge in the Causcasian spa town of Kislovodsk (est. £1.5-2.5m). Post-War Art incldues Oskar Rabin’s irreverent 1963 take on a drunk-looking Taj Mahal (est. £15,000-25,000). Sotheby’s highlights on June 2 include an early Neo-Primitivist work by Larionov, Kneading Dough (est. £800,000-1.2m), ahead of two works consigned from a German Collection: a Malevich Head of A Peasant (c.1911); and Lentulov’s Children with Umbrellas (1912) – both expected to bring around £600,000-800,000. A more unfamiliar consignor is Russia’s Union of Artists – to which all artists were obliged to belong during its Soviet hey-day – which is offering an iconic work from the 1960s: Georgy Nissky’s Over the Snowy Fields (1964), showing a plane coming in to land (est. £500,000-700,000). Bonhams are making a habit of selling top Roerichs, and have another fine work by the painterly mystic among the 67 pictures they are offering on June 4: his Bonfires of Peace, painted in Karelia in 1917/18 (est. £800,000-1.2m). * Meanwhile the respected Moscow dealer Maxim Boxer is turning his hand to auctioneering by offering around 50 modern and contemporary works (paintings, photographs, sculpture and drawings) from Larionov to Ponomarev, united under the theme of Russian Cosmism – described in the press release as a cross-disciplinary and cosmic worldview (which I’m not sure helps us much). Works are geared at new collectors, with prices expected to range from £500 to £10,000. The sale (preceded by a five-day viewing) will take place at the Erarta Gallery on Berkeley Street on June 3.
Before the London sales get underway, the Dorotheum has a sale of Russian Silver & Icons on May 19, featuring this handsome, early Art Nouveau glass and silver jardinière made by Bolin of Moscow in 1893 (est. €3000-4000). The sale also has several items of imperial interest: a pair of carved ivory profiles of the future Tsar Paul I and his second wife Princess Sophie Dorothee of Württemberg, probably made for their marriage in 1776 (est. €10,000-15,000); a gold and diamond ring signed Heche L. Müller (c.1780), mounted with a carnelian profile of Catherine the Great (est. €14,000-18,000); and a vodka beaker (Moscow c.1900) in the form of a helmet of the Cuirassier Guards Regiment of Empress Maria Fedorovna (est. €30,000-35,000).
One of the eight missing Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs (from the fifty originally created) went on show at Wartski’s Grafton Street premises April 14–17, after being sensationally rediscovered as a kitchen ornament in a home in the American Rust Belt. The two-tone gold egg, 3½ inches tall and incorporating a watch by Vacheron Constantin, was presented to Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1887 and had not been seen in public since 1902. After being confiscated by the Bolsheviks it was sold virtually unnoticed (and without a Fabergé attribution) for $2450 at a New York auction in 1964. Wartski have brokered its re-sale for a reported £20 million. This Fabergé frame, containing a 1916 photograph of Tsar Nicholas II, fetched £50,000 at Sotheby’s London on March 5 (Collection of Stanley Seeger). The last tsar is sporting a British Field Marshal’s uniform, and the frame was reputedly owned by Rear Admiral Nikolai Volkov, the Russian Naval Attaché in London.
ST PETERSBURG GALLERY: RUSSIAN AVANT-GARDE 1910-32An angry exchange of letters-to-the-editor, and a preposterous charge of defamation against a London dealer, were among the fruits of my recent article in The ArtNewspaper about a controversial Avant-Garde exhibition staged in Mantua this winter. The current show at Cork Street’s St Petersburg Gallery (through September 20), replete with entrancing discoveries, is in a different league – not least because of its emphasis on provenance. Levkievsky’s Tram, for instance, was illustrated in the catalogue for the Futurism-Rayonism-Primitivism exhibition staged at the Levisson Trading House in Moscow (Bolshaya Dmitrovka 32) in 1914 – and the Gallery have a copy of the catalogue on hand for perusal. JAMES BUTTERWICK: BOGOMAZOV IN MOSCOW London dealer James Butterwick regaled the 36th Russian Antiques Salon at Moscow’s Central House of Artists (March 28–April 6) with works by Alexander Bogomazov (1880-1930) – arguably Ukraine’s greatest-ever artist and one of the most under-estimated names of the Russian Avant-Garde. Bogomazov studied in Moscow with Konstantin Yuon and Fyodor Rerberg before shooting to prominence in 1914 with 88 works at the Koltso exhibition in Kiev. He helped decorate Agittrain N°1 with Alexandra Exter and was a founding member of the Association of Revolutionary Artists of Ukraine. But Butterwick believes Bogomazov’s genius lies primarily in his graphic works, especially a gift for creating ‘angular movement, tension and dynamics’ that sets him apart from his Russian Avant-Garde contemporaries and echoes the Italian Futurists.
RENE GUERRA Highlights from one the largest private French collections of Russian art (4,000 works in all, dating mainly from the first half of the 20th century) were briefly on show at Sotheby’s Paris in March. Monsieur Guerra, a fluent Russian-speaker who grew up in the shadow of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice, is Founder of the Association for the Safeguard of Russian Cultural Heritage in France.
Adam Lerner: From Russia With Doubt (Princeton Architectural Press – £18.99) This curious new book, attractively designed but intellectually lightweight, tells the story of two American brothers who purchased over 160 Avant-Garde fakes from German sellers via eBay between 2004-08, originally to decorate their homes. When the brothers (finally) got round to asking about provenance, they were told the pictures were part of a container shipped from Russia to Germany but never claimed, then broken open by German customs authorities, with the contents dispersed at (an undocumented) auction. A likely story – and From Russia With Doubt asks more questions than it answers. Starting with Why does a museum curator ooze naïve enthusiasm for ‘such delightful and vital paintings’? …to the point of hanging the entire ‘collection’ of fakes in the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art (of which Werner is Director), then illustrating them all in this book.