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Sotheby's London auction of Russian art fetches $5.17 mln

Sotheby's, the world's second-largest auction house, sold £2.63 mln ($5.17 mln) in Russian modern and contemporary art at its London office yesterday, surpassing the top presale total estimate of £2 mln.

Just over 80% of the 113 lots sold, and half of those beat their high estimates. North American and European collectors were the main sellers and Russians accounted for the vast majority of buyers, including the top 10 lots, Sotheby's said. This was Sotheby's first Russian contemporary-art sale since 1988, when it sold £2 million worth in Moscow, primarily to international collectors. As Russia enters its ninth year of economic growth, in large part driven by high prices for oil, gas and metals, a growing class of wealthy Russians is collecting art. „The Russians outbid everyone, and the results of this sale show there's a burgeoning market for modern and contemporary Russian art” said Jo Vickery, head of Sotheby's Russian department in London. Sotheby's total Russian art sales in 2006 rose 43% to $153.5 million. Most of those sales were Russian 19th and early 20th century art. The market for Russian contemporary art is defined as art from the 1960s onward. Many of the lots in the sale date from the repressive rule of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and belong to the non-conformist movement that opposed official Soviet art. Many of these artists faced persecution and were forced to create in secret.

The top lot was „Untitled,” 1992, a two meter by three meter abstract painting by Evgeny Chubarov (born in 1934), which sold to a Russian buyer on the phone for £288,000, a record for the artist at auction, and almost five times its top estimate. The next most expensive lot was „Revolution-Perestroika,” 1988, by Erik Bulatov (b. 1933), which came from a private American collection. It sold for £198,000, a record for the artist at auction, on a top estimate of £120,000. „A number of major collectors who began with Russian 19th and early 20th century art are stepping into Russian contemporary art,” said Alexander Gertsman, a New York-based Russian contemporary-art dealer. „Their tastes are maturing, they want a wider historical range of art, and they understand there's not much inventory on the market and that contemporary art will soon be worth a lot more money.” Gertsman said he was surprised by the strong showing of the Chubarov painting, which appears to have been inspired by the American abstract painter, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). The third most expensive lot was „Avid eye,” 1966-1972, by Mikhail Shvartsman (1926-97) which sold for £192,000, a record for the artist at auction, and more than three times its top estimate. The work came from the collection of the late George Costakis. (Bloomberg)