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Buyers Vie for Art by Compatriots At Sotheby’s Strong Russian Sale

Sotheby’s 153-lot sale of Russian contemporary art in London on March 12 totaled £4.1 million ($8.3 million); it was 75 percent sold by lot, 87 percent by value.

LONDON—Sotheby’s 153-lot sale of Russian contemporary art in London on March 12 totaled £4.1 million ($8.3 million); it was 75 percent sold by lot, 87 percent by value. Russian buyers snapped up the ten highest lots and 70 percent of the sale overall.

Sotheby’s claimed the auction was the biggest-ever take for a various-owner Russian contemporary auction, although it fell short of the £6.5 million ($12.9 million) grossed by Phillips, de Pury & Company for a 39-lot sale of art from a private foundation in London on Feb. 28 (ANL, 3/18/08, pp. 3-5). Results were broadly similar to Sotheby’s 113-lot London sale in February 2007, bringing £2.6 million ($5.2 million).

“Russian contemporary art is a sector of the market experiencing strong growth,” said Jo Vickery, head of Sotheby’s Russian art department. “Sale on sale we are seeing increasing appreciation for artists who are new faces on the auction scene.”

Nearly all the 100 or so people in the audience at Sotheby’s saleroom were Russian-speaking, including dealers Ilona Orel, Elena Kuprina and Elena Selina, who set an auction high for Valery Koshlyakov: £72,500 ($145,979) for his Versailles, 1993.

The top price of £468,500 ($943,325) fell to Oleg Vassiliev’s Before the Sunset, 1990 (estimate: £200,000/300,000), a record for the artist. It sold in the room to Catherine MacDougall, co-owner of the MacDougall’s Russian Art auction firm, bidding on behalf of a Russian client who also bought Oscar Rabin’s 1975 Nepravda for £102,500, or $206,384 (estimate: £40,000/60,000); and Erik Bulatov’s early Black Tunnel, 1964, for £72,500, or $145,979 (estimate: £30,000/40,000).

Ten buyers bought four or more works each, and three accounted for 33 lots (nearly a third of the sale) among them.

The biggest buyer, on the phone, spent more than £1.1 million ($2.2 million) to acquire five of the top ten lots, and 14 works in all—including Vassiliev’s 1978 Walking Away for £180,500 ($363,437); two works by Semyon Faibisovich, led by his 1988 Beauty at a quadruple-estimate £264,500 ($531,645); Francisco Infante’s Spiral Design 2 for £72,500, or $145,979 (estimate: £60,000/80,000); and works by Sergei Essaian, Eduard Gorokhovsky, Vladimir Kupriyanov, Mikhail Roginsky, Evgeny Rukhin, Vladimir Weisberg and Vladimir Yankilesvky, plus two of the sale’s five pieces by Ivan Chuikov.

The other three Chuikov works went to a different phone bidder, with a 1986 Untitled posting a record for the artist of £96,500 ($194,303). The same buyer also landed Timur Novikov’s 1989 Basketball, in acrylic on fabric, for £36,500 ($73,360). Another phone buyer spent a total of £200,000 ($402,000) for 11 works, led by Leonid Purygin’s 1991 Pipa at £62,900 ($126,429). More than two-thirds of the sale’s 48 different buyers were on the phone.

In the room, St. Petersburg collectors Aslan Chekhoyev and his wife, Irina, spent a total of £265,000 ($532,650) for eight works—and were underbidders on several more. Their top purchase was Nikolai Ovchinnikov’s 1988 K.S.V. No.4 at £54,500 ($109,545). They also acquired works by Petr Belenok, Infante, Alexander Kosolapov, Igor Makarevich, and Leonid Sokov.

In general, the highest prices went for works by artists active before the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. The main exception was the four-person combo AES+F, whose video installation starred at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

Although their Tondo No. 15 digital print was bought in bidless at £28,000 ($57,300), their bronze figure Warrior #4 sold for £120,500 ($242,627) on what appeared to be a solitary saleroom bid. It was consigned by Triomf Gallery, one of about 15 works, all dated “2006/7,” consigned by Moscow galleries. Most sold modestly, although Katia Filippova’s glitzy 2006 Marina Ladynina, in mixed media with Swarovski crystals and shown at last year’s Art Moscow fair, fetched £38,900 ($78,200).


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