Lost, Found, Sold

Remember the controversy surrounding Sergey  Bugaev (aka Afrika) and his collection of “lost” paintings by members of Leningrad’s New Artitsts? Well, it came to a disheartening semi-conclusion this week when 24 works from Bugaev’s collection were offered at Moscow’s Vladey auction.

Sergey Bugaev and Timur Novikov in front of Novikov’s “Portrait of Afrika” back in the day

Here’s a brief refresher: Bugaev, once a prominent member of Leningrad’s avant-garde scene and it’s ambassador to the word at large had somehow gained possession of a number of works by artists such as Georgy Gurianov, Viktor Tsoy, Inal Savchenkov, Timur Novikov and others in the late 1980s. At the time, they were lent to a traveling exhibition and went missing somewhere on the way back home to Leningrad. Some 25+ years later, to the artists’ surprise, the works surfaced in an exhibition curated by Bugaev, where they were presented as pieces from his collection. The artists went to court where Bugaev’s ownership of the works was found legal. Last Monday, two dozen works were auctioned off at a sale that brought in 838, 000 Euro in total earnings. Among the lots was Timur Novikov’s iconic portrait of a young Nike – clad Bugaev, a painting probably made at a time when fellow artists were not expecting Afrika to offer them to buy their own art back from him (as was the case with Georgy Gurianov back in 2013). Another work by Novikov, Leningrad, was picked up by prominent Russian collector Shalva Breus for 95,000 Euro, setting a record for the auction and insuring that Bugaev makes a nice profit off the evening’s sales. Later, in an interview with Afisha Vozduh, Bugaev admitted that the 24 pieces was a “microscopic part” of his collection, basically confirming a fact no one doubted. “Bugaev has not one, not two, not even ten of my works, but many, many more” – says artist Inal Savchenkov, who saw two of his pieces offered at Vladey. “But I feel great. I don’t expect anything good coming my way from Seryozha Bugaev – never have, never will”.

Georgy Gurianov's Dive, which sold at Sotheby's Contemporary East auction

Georgy Gurianov’s Dive, which sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary East auction

Moscow’s Vladey was scheduled to coincide with London’s Russian auctions, held by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and MacDougall’s. With the ruble and oil prices plummeting and the West’s sanctions firmly in place, there was little optimism in the salerooms. Sotheby’s, which has shown generally disappointing results this season, sold only 12 of its 32 lots – amongst them Georgy Gurianov’s Dive, which went for 122,500 GBP. Christie’s Important Russian Art sale did better, earning a total of $31,597,848 on the 240 sold lots. Valentin Serov’s Portrait of Maria Zetlin, which went for $14,511,339 at Christie’s, was the biggest sale of the week, setting a record for the artist and for a Russian artwork at auction. A full roundup of Christie’s and Sotheby’s results can be found here and here. The New York Times reports that the Russian sales are half of what they were back in pre-crisis 2007, when they brought in nearly 100 million GBP. Judging by the alarming forecasts for the Russian economy, things may get even shakier soon. No doubt Bugaev knows when to make an exit.

Speaking of London – if you’re in town, make sure to check out Saatchi’s new show, Post Pop: East Meets West, which traces Pop Art’s legacy in the East. The exhibition finally makes an effort to show art from the former  Soviet Union, China and Taiwan alongside the Basquiats, Shermans, Princes and McCarthys of the West. Andrei Erofeev, one of the three curators responsible for the show, brought in a diverse group of Russian Pop and Sots-artists, ranging from Grisha Bruskin and Leonid Sokov to Irina Korina to Oleg Kulik. Not in London? No worries – apparently, Saatchi is looking to tour the show in the US, China and Russia.

Posted by: Polina Dubik 

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