A Blockbuster Auction of Russian Art

NEW YORK, NY – Gene Shapiro Auctions LLC has announced an important auction of Russian artwork to be held on April 17, 2008 in New York City. The auction will take place on the fourth floor of the Metropolitan Pavilion, located at 123 West 18th Street in Manhattan. The auction itself will begin at 10 AM on the 17th, and there will be a full day of exhibition and preview for interested bidders at the same location from 12 PM to 9PM on the 16th of April.

Gene Shapiro, President of the company, is elated about holding this auction in New York, and says, “Our first auction, which took place in Stamford, Connecticut, was extremely successful. We established numerous records for many artists, and bidders participated from all around the world, including from Russia, Europe, and all parts of the U.S. For my next auction, I decided that New York was really the venue where we needed to hold our auction, not only because of its position as a nexus for the worldwide art market, but also in order to make it more convenient for those bidders, who are visiting New York to attend other auctions of Russian art.”

Indeed, the third week of April will present a cornucopia of offerings to interested buyers of Russian art. In addition to Gene Shapiro’s auction, Sotheby’s will be holding an auction on April 15th and 16th, and Christie’s will be holding an auction on April 18th. As Shapiro’s auction will be presenting many works by the most noted and historical Russian artists, his auction has become an event not to be missed by any serious collector of Russian paintings. The total pre-sale estimate of Gene Shapiro’s April 17th auction is $3,000,000-4,000,000.

Regarding the establishment of a smaller but specialized auction house on the New York auction scene, Shapiro says, “The market for Russian paintings in the United States is too large for only two houses to hold a duopoly on the sale of important works. There is not enough room for either house to include every major piece available in the market. The U.S. is still a treasure-chest for those buyers seeking to buy Russian paintings, because of the long history of Russian paintings being bought by American collectors, as well as the enormous Russian émigré community here. In addition, the current financial realities, that is to say the exchange rate of the US Dollar to the Euro, Pound, and Ruble, make it an even more attractive time to buy Russian art in America, because collectors are getting more for the money they spend. We have become an attractive source to buy Russian art in America because in a short time our auction house has already established a reputation for selling high quality works with good provenance.”

Gene Shapiro Auctions is especially strong in the field of Russian contemporary art and Russian non-conformist art, that has gained much attention and appreciation as of recently. Shapiro notes that, “There is no other auction house in the United States with the quality and breadth of the Russian non-conformist art that we offer. While that is by no means our only specialization, we have committed to making it a core part of our business as artwork by these modern masters is rightly in demand and should remain so, and many smart collectors are investing in contemporary works.”

Gene Shapiro’s April 17th auction will comprise approximately 260 lots. Of these lots, approximately 90% are by Russian artists. The remaining 10% are works by European old masters as well as 19th century European paintings and genre scenes. Shapiro describes his reasoning for structuring the auction in this way as follows, “Of course this is a predominantly Russian auction. However, I want to provide my Russian collectors with an opportunity to buy beautiful Italian, Flemish, and French old master paintings as well. I believe that the best collections are those that comprise a mixture of art from different time periods, as well as different nationalities. Russian collectors are educated collectors whose knowledge of art history transcends ethnic and national lines. One need only visit the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg once to know of Russians’ centuries-old appreciation and patronage of the old masters. My auction will always sell Russian paintings, but we also continue to sell important works by European, American, and other talented artists from around the globe.”

Shapiro’s auction is run roughly chronologically. For the April 17th sale, the auction will begin with a group of about 25-30 European old masters and 19th Century paintings. Afterwards, the auction will feature several 19th century Russian bronzes with some French bronzes as well, including works by Vasily Grachev, Evgeny Lanceray, and Antoine-Louise Barye. The Russian paintings begin then, and one of the most interesting lots is a portrait painting of Czar Alexander I wearing the orders of St. George and St. Andrew, painted from before 1805, estimated at $40,000-60,000. The painting was formerly in the collection of the Great Duke Nicholas Romanov before being nationalized into the collection of the Hermitage Museum. It appeared later on the Western art market and was owned at one point by ‘A la Vielle Russe’ in New York, during which time the painting was widely reproduced in numerous American textbooks about Russia. The auction continues with works by some of the most influential Russian artists, such as Nikolai Sverchkov, Nikolai Dubovskoi, Konstantin Gorbatov, Vasili Vereschagin, Abram Arkhipov, and others.

A large group of early 20th century Russian paintings forms a section of the auction, including an early landscape by Nicolai Fechin with expertise from the Tretyakov Museum ($12,000-15,000) and a large oil on canvas by Boris Anisfeld of three gypsies dancing with provenance from the family of the artist and expertise from the Grabar Institute ($50,000-70,000). Works abound in the auction by Stepan Kolesnikoff, Konstantin Yuon, Boris Grigoriev, Sergei Vinogradov, Yuri Annenkov, Natalia Goncharova, Alexander Golovin, and Mikhail Vrubel. Avant-garde works are represented by early works by Gustav Klucis and Ivan Kudryashev. In addition to Russian artists, Ukrainian artists such as Nicolai Glushenko are featured.

The auction includes a formidable group of works by the Russian émigré artists to America who have become widely collected in both Russia and Ukraine, including more than 8 works by the seminal futurist David Burliuk, including oil paintings and watercolors, in addition to works by Constantin Wesctchiloff, Nicolai Cikovsky, Grigory Gluckmann, and Alexis Podchernikoff. Fine art photography is represented in the auction with the inclusion of three photographs by Evgeny Khaldei that were acquired from the artist’s estate, including his haunting ‘Sevastopol, Life Again,’ where young and healthy bathers are photographed on an outing in front of a recently devastated Sevastopol, demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit. Similarly, photography by Samari Gurari and a contemporary photograph by Boris Mikhailov are offered for auction as well.

For collectors of Russian contemporary art, and collectors of those artists whose works were considered un-official or “non-conformist,” during the Soviet period, Shapiro’s auction abounds in opportunities for the knowledgeable collector to acquire chef d’ouevres by the most prominent artists in this sphere. For a prime example, the cover lot of the auction is an acrylic on canvas by Semyon Faibisovich from 1989, originally designed for the cover of the widely-read American magazine ‘TIME.’ ($120,000-150,000). Not only is it a historical work, but it is a intriguing composition by an artist whose works are widely sought.

A widely illustrated Vladimir Nemukhin sculpture dedicated to fellow artist Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, acquired from the artist and in a private American collection, is offered at $60,000-80,000. With regards to Krasnopevtsev, two works are represented in the auction: one a drawing from 1961 given to the collector and author Alexander Glezer for his help in publishing “Tretia Volna,” ($15,000-20,000) and another, quite unique Krasnopevtsev view of Sudak in Uyutnaya, Crimea, which is an oil on board, the authenticity of which affirmed by M. Krasnopevtseva ($35,000-50,000) and other experts on the artist. This early work by Krasnopevtsev demonstrates the artist’s solid lines and geometric sensibilities of his future paintings, while remaining a rare example of the artist’s more representational works.

One of the major highlights of the auction is a painting by Oscar Rabin, “Landscape with Cow,” an oil on canvas from 1974, which Rabin exhibited at the infamous Bulldozer Exhibition at Belyayevo in Moscow on September 15, 1974 ($60,000-80,000). The painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne on the artist, and was acquired directly from the artist by a diplomat who attended the Bulldozer Exhibition and acquired it immediately thereafter. Shapiro notes, “I am certainly delighted that we are able to offer a work by an acknowledged contemporary Russian master, that is of such historical importance. In fact, we have two works in the auction that were exhibited at this historical event: the Rabin, and a great painting by Evgeny Rukhin as well, showing a tattered leather briefcase glued onto an elaborately painted canvas. I think that these could even be museum pieces in another context.” In addition to this Rabin, Shapiro’s auction offers two other paintings by Rabin in the auction as well, estimated at $40,000-60,000 and $20,000-30,000 respectively.

Regarding the works of Evgeny Rukhin, the seminal figure of the Leningrad underground and Russian equivalent to American pop-artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Gene Shapiro has on offer seven paintings by the artist, ranging in estimates from $50,000-70,000 to $70,000-90,000. All seven paintings were either acquired directly from the artist from diplomats who were stationed in Russia during the seventies, or from the estate of the artist. Shapiro states, “I strongly believe that the paintings by Evgeny Rukhin in my auction are of higher quality and sophistication than some of the others that have been on the market recently, and I think that knowledgeable collectors will agree.”

With respect to historical works, several works are offered in the auction by the underground legend Vasily Sitnikov, including an early work from 1951, illustrated in the Sjeklocha and Mead book of 1967, “Unofficial Art in the Soviet Union,” which introduced many Americans to the works of the nonconformist artists ($60,000-80,000). The painting is a touching portrait of Sitnikov’s sister, and was executed not much longer after Sitnikov’s release from a psychiatric hospital. The portrait bears a sentimentality that is uniquely Sitnikov’s. Later works by Sitnikov in the auction include a large nude from his American period in the 1980s bearing his signature hazy blue background, and a figural drawing.

Vladimir Yakovlev is well represented in the auction with several large paintings ($18,000-25,000 and $12,000-15,000), along with several of his smaller signature works. A relative newcomer to the international auction market, but an important artist, Tanya Levitskaya, is included in the auction with a large and striking work from 1975 ($7,000-9,000). Other artists like Timur Novikov, Igor Snegur, Lev Tabenkin, Anatoly Zverev, Tatiana Nazarenko, Edward Gorokhovski, Vladimir Titov, Sergei Sherstiouk, and Leonid Purygin abound in the auction as well.

The auction has a very strong selection of Russian “sots-art” works, including Alexander Kosolapov’s controversial “Mickie and Minnie,” in which the heads of the American pop cartoon icons replace those of Vera Mukhina’s own iconic “Worker and Kolkhoz Woman,” creating a stark contrast of capitalism and communism’s ‘sacred’ images ($35,000-50,000). Another of Kosolapov’s signature works, ‘Molotov Cocktail,’ makes its appearance in the auction ($25,000-35,000), as well as several works by Leonid Sokov ($20,000-30,000) and Boris Orlov ($30,000-40,000) A highly anticipated lot in the auction is a large diptych by Komar & Melamid, which was exhibited at the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1996-7, ‘Here and There; Then and Now: Contemporary Artists from the former Soviet Union,’ ($100,000-140,000).

Other highlights of the auction include a well-illustrated and important work by Natalia Nesterova, ‘Reflections,’ measuring 1.8 x 1.8 meters ($70,000-90,000), a tri-partite work from Ilya Kabakov’s ‘Shower Series,’ ($13,500-17,500), and several seductively painted and drawn large-scale surrealist works by Igor Tulpanov ($25,000-30,000 and $15,000-20,000). A series of works by cutting-edge artists round out the sale, including a sensational erotic drawing by Kirill Chelushkin ($17,000-25,000), and an emotionally powerful large-print photograph of Russian icon Renata Letvinova by Vladimir Clavijo-Telepnev ($10,000-15,000), amongst many others.

Overall, Shapiro is optimistic about the auction, and about the Russian art market in general, saying, “I believe that so many Russian artists have been undervalued for so long, that what we are seeing now is not a bubble, but more an appreciation of the strength, influence, depth, and beauty of an entire culture’s visual heritage.”

In addition to posting the entire catalog online on their website, www.geneshapiro.com, Gene Shapiro Auctions is publishing a printed catalog of the entire auction, which can also be ordered online or by phone/fax. The auction house can be reached at +1 (917) 330-1482, by fax at +1 (215) 745-1056, or by email at [email protected] Online bidding available will also be available through ebayliveauctions.