The 5 most expensive lots from Sotheby's Soviet exhibition in the Garage

January 23 at the Garage Museum opened an exhibition about the first and currently only Sotheby's auction held in Moscow. The exhibition uses a variety of materials recreating the events of 1988: from photo and video documentation to the VR-installation of the auction hall in the format of 360 degrees. Also at the exhibition you can see some of the works sold.

The auction "Russian Avant-Garde and Soviet Contemporary Art" made the year 1988 a turning point in the minds of Soviet people - according to the head of Sotheby's Russia, Mikhail Kamensky, "it was a revolution in the minds, not money."

At the auction put up work not only the world-famous masters of the Russian avant-garde - El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko - but also unknown at that time in the West, modern Soviet artists: Ilya Kabakov, Grisha Bruskin and others. A world-class commercial auction was, on the one hand, to be visible evidence of Gorbachev's perestroika and publicity, and on the other, to replenish the country's budget with foreign currency.

The auction presented Soviet contemporary art to the Western world, opening the way for local artists to Europe and the United States. Many of them left immediately after the auction, having received customer customers around the world.

Dozens of famous collectors, among whom were Elton John and David Bowie, came to Moscow, intrigued by the opportunity to see with their own eyes what is happening behind the iron curtain. Their expectations were met: the profit from the auction exceeded the expected four times and amounted to more than 2 million pounds - an unthinkable amount for art, which in the homeland was estimated at thousands of rubles. From that moment unofficial art became official and entered the context of the international art market.


Maria Evdokimova

5 most expensive auction lots

5th place

Ilya Kabakov. "Answers of the experimental group" ("All about him")

Cost: 22 thousand pounds

The leader of Soviet conceptualism, Ilya Kabakov, is perhaps the most striking example of how auctions turn artists into world stars, whose fame is growing every year. Immediately after the auction, Kabakov left for Germany, and the prices for his work continued to grow every year, in 2007 having crossed the border of a million dollars.

Now retrospectives of the works of Kabakov and his wife are held all over the world, and the work "Beetle" is currently the most expensive work in the world created by a modern Russian artist (5.8 million dollars).

It is believed that Soviet conceptualism begins precisely with the Answers. In the early 70s, the artist was developing the perception of a new painting, dealing not with objects and objects, but with an idea that made life itself an art. In this work, the main pictorial medium is text - names and brief information about people, recorded in neat bureaucratic handwriting. "Answers" is a parody of the addiction of the Soviet bureaucracy to tables, lists and plans in which people are impersonalized as civilian units. The work was bought by the chairman of Sotheby's Alfred Taubman and immediately after the auction presented it to the USSR Ministry of Culture for the future museum of modern art, which was never destined to open. Now the picture is in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery.

4th place

Ilya Glazunov. "Ivan the Terrible"

Cost: 30.8 thousand pounds

Ilya Glazunov, an ardent anti-Semite and unchanging favorite of the people, of course, was not one of the underground artists - unlike the unknown non-conformists, he fit perfectly into the streamlined Soviet system and occupied a prominent place in the Union of Artists.

Combining in the work "Ivan the Terrible" all the main stereotypes about medieval Russia - from the red shirt to the cap of Monomakh and the multi-colored domes of St. Basil's Cathedral - Glazunov created one of the most kitsch images at the auction, which attracted the attention of Western collectors.

Of course, at the time of the auction, Glazunov was already known in the West, his works were exhibited in foreign galleries. However, after the auction, prices rose for his work - from 3 to 50 thousand dollars.

3rd place

Igor and Svetlana Kopystyanskie. "Restored canvas" and "Landscape"

The cost of each: 44 thousand pounds

Despite the fact that Elton John did not win in the struggle for the “Fundamental Lexicon” lot (about him - below), he became the owner of two works of Lviv artists Svetlana and Igor Kopystyanskikh at once. Kopystyansky art was devoid of specific Soviet motives and political overtones, because of which it was beaten out against the background of other lots. Their work addresses the theme of world culture and history, under the pressure of which is a contemporary artist.

Kopystyansky still work separately, but always exhibited together and exclusively in the West, where they moved immediately after the auction.

2nd place

Grisha Bruskin. "Fundamental vocabulary"

Cost: 242 thousand pounds

At the time of the auction, Grisha Bruskin was among the young artists who were called the “new avant-garde”. He became the absolute hero of the evening when his work (or rather, a huge polyptych of 32 canvases) was bought for a record 242 thousand pounds for a contemporary Soviet artist.

Elton John and an unknown buyer from Munich fought for her, in the end the latter won. "Fundamental Lexicon" is a dictionary, a manual on the contemporary artist, understandable to every Soviet person. Figures - ordinary people and at the same time harbingers of the collapse of the USSR - carry symbols of Soviet culture and power in a single system.

A week after the auction, Bruskin left for the United States and has since been at the top of the lists of the most expensive Russian artists of our time.

1st place

Alexander Rodchenko. "Line"

Cost: 330 thousand pounds

The most expensive work expectedly was the work of the famous avant-garde artist Alexander Rodchenko "Line" (1920). Why is it expected? The fashion for the Russian avant-garde of the beginning of the century in the West every year only gained momentum.

Rodchenko’s paintings were often faked, and at the 1988 auction all the works were presented by descendants of artists, which minimized the likelihood of fraud. In addition, the auction allowed her to be taken out of the USSR legally, which was almost impossible due to the iron curtain. The next such opportunity was given to collectors after almost 30 years. After the famous auction, Rodchenko’s works often came across at the auction, but these were mainly photographs and graphics.

In 2016, Rodchenko’s pictorial abstraction at the Sotheby's auction of Russian art already cost ten times more than the 1988 record of 3.6 million pounds.

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