“There are signs that the contemporary art market is so cluttered with supposedly avant-gard rubbish that the pendulum is beginning to swing back to long despised Soviet and Satellite art”. Edward Lucie- Smith
Sotheby’s London has announced a sale, “Contemporary East”, on 7th June. It will include works by many post-war artists from across Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and the Caucasus to the international market for the first time. Including fine art, photography, sculpture and design, the auction unites over 120 pieces by established and emerging artists that have rarely, or never before, appeared at auction outside their native countries.
Jo Vickery, Senior International Director, Russian Art, said: “Post-war art from this region is only now being properly reassessed, with major museums such as Tate and MoMA fast acquiring post-war art from Eastern Europe and Russia through dedicated acquisition programmes. We’re seeing a generational shift; traditional, conservative tastes in the region are changing, and 60s and 70s art is being newly embraced.
In this sale, we’ve placed a special focus on those artists who are already established in both major public and private collections, but don’t yet have an international profile on the market. This is a hugely exciting area with much potential, and plenty for collectors to discover and explore.”
Contemporary East will reveal both the differences and common preoccupations shared in this culturally diverse part of the world. While experiences of socialism and the new internationalism sparked off by its collapse in 1989 shaped the overarching cultural landscape, the artistic language is diverse. In Contemporary East we see the influence of the Russian avant-garde and the Bauhaus, pop art and conceptual practices, and the figurative art that was hugely popular in socialist and post-socialist countries.
The sale will cover Judit Reigl, one of the most important Hungarian-French painters of her generation, the Russian duo Komar and Melamid, the collection of Anne and Stephane Tatischeff (two influential supporters of the Russian dissident movement), vintage photographs and collages by Běla Kolářová and Dóra Maurer, and a rare group of ten works by Polish designer Roman Cieślewicz, led by his striking 1968 image of Muhammad Ali. The sale is expected to realise £1.2 – 1.8m in total.
Komar and Melamid, Double Self-Portrait from the Sots Art Series (1972) oil on canvas, 92cm diameter, £100,000-150,000. RUSSIA
Drawing on State propaganda images of Lenin and Stalin, this is a rare, iconic and genredefining work of early Sots Art (Soviet Pop Art) that flourished in 70s and 80s Russia. Vitaly Komar (b. 1943) and Alexander Melamid (b. 1945) saw several works destroyed by Soviet authorities at their unofficial “Bulldozer Exhibition” in 1974, including another version of this double-self-portrait. Attesting to the significance of this image, the artists later chose to create a third version to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the show. Their works are held in the collections of the Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Georgy Gurianov (1961-2013), Self-Portrait (1990), 200 by 300cm, £80,000 – 120,000. RUSSIA
A famous artist and musician, a St Petersburg dandy and personality, Georgy Gurianov became the embodiment of a new era — the era of change. His works depicting pilots, sailors and athletes are united by an aesthetic that cultivates the perfection of the physical form. On a monumental scale, this is one of several selfportraits produced by the artist who once said ‘My work of art is, in truth, myself.’ A new benchmark was set for the artist in Sotheby’s 2013 Contemporary East sale, when Rower Sergey sold for at £188,500, more than double the previous record.
Judit Reigl (b.1923), Guano, 1959-63, oil on canvas, 207 by 233cm, £100,000150,000. HUNGARY/FRANCE.
Judit Reigl is one of the most important Hungarian-French painters of her generation. After the Soviet take-over of Budapest in 1945, Reigl followed many of her contemporaries to France, leaving behind Socialist Realism to embrace the liberating practices of Abstract Expressionism. TATE Modern, Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pompidou Centre and Musée d’Art Moderne, are just some of the museums to count Reigl’s multi-layered and mystical Guano paintings in their collections. Fresh to the market, this is one of only few works from the artist’s celebrated series still in private hands.
Dóra Maurer (b.1937), The Mill, 1993, hand-coloured c-print, 60 by 39cm, £6,000 – 8,000. HUNGARY
With a career spanning over 50 years, Dora Maurer has emerged as one of Eastern Europe’s most rigorously experimental artists. Less than a handful of her works have ever been sold at auction before.
Endre Tót (b.1937), Diptych, 1970, oil on canvas, 103 by 145cm, £25,000 – 35,000. HUNGARY/GERMANY
This is the first work by Endre Tót to ever appear at auction in the UK. The German-based artist is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Ludwig Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum and TATE Modern.
Jana Želibská (b. 1941), Two (1988), Mixed media and metal, 200 by 150cm, £12,000-18,000. CZECH REPUBLIC.
Želibská was the only one of her generation of Czechoslovakian artists who dealt openly with sexual relationships between men and women, and celebrated the female body from the proto-feminist perspective. In 2012, a major retrospective of her work was held at the Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava. More recently her work was included in the TATE Modern ‘The World Goes Pop’ exhibition. This is only the second time a work by the artist has been offered at auction outside Prague.
David Černý (b. 1967), Violin, polylite resin, height: 85cm, 40,000 GBP – 60,000 CZECH REPUBLIC
The controversial Czech sculptor first gained notoriety in 1991 when he was arrested for painting a war memorial shaped as a Soviet tank pink in central Prague. In 2005 he made headlines for “Shark”, an image of Saddam Hussein in a tank of formaldehyde, parodying Damien Hirst. This is only the third work by the artist to be offered at auction anywhere.
A master of poster art, Cieslewicz was one of the most influential graphic design artists of the 20th century. His influence on the history of the genre is hard to overstate: he was the first graphic designer ever to have a solo exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou, in 1993. After moving to Paris in 1963, he worked for major glossy fashion magazines, as artistic director for Elle (1966-1969) and a designer for Vogue.
Alongside his design commissions he made original, independent art, many of which are presented in this rare group of ten works that will be offered for sale directly from the family of the artist. With over one hundred solo exhibitions to his name, Cieslewicz’s works are today found in major international museum collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Stedelijk Museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou and various national museums in Poland. This is the first time his work will be been offered at auction in the UK.
Geta Bratescu (b. 1926), Three Works from the Pre-Medean Series (1977), Lithographs printed in black and brown on wove paper, 65 by 88cm, £4,000-6,000. ROMANIA
Inspired by the mythical sorceress Medea, these are the first works by Geta Bratescu to be offered for sale in the UK following her first British solo exhibition at TATE Liverpool in 2015. Medea was a theme to which Bratescu would return to again and again in her career, and led to a series of textiles in 1980-81, one of which is today owned by TATE Modern, and the other by the Museum of Modern Art.
Karel Malich (b. 1924), Blue and White Cloud, 1973-4, Metal wire construction, 74cm, £35,000-45,000. CZECH REPUBLIC.
This is only the third work by the Prague-based constructivist artist to be offered at auction in the UK. His works have been included in exhibitions at the Ludwig Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and The National Art Museum of China.
Běla Kolářová (1923–2010), Seven Seven, 1967, £4,000-6,000 AND Cathedral I, 1969, £6,000-8,000. CZECH REPUBLIC.
An artist and photographer, Kolářová is best known for her experimental photographic works. Believing that is not possible to photograph reality, she instead created “camera-free” photography from artificial negatives she manipulated in her studio. Her work has only been offered for auction outside Prague once before.
Ivan Kožarić (b.1921), Sphere, 1961-69, Iron, height: 42cm, £5,000 – 7,000. CROATIA
One of the great Croatian artists of the 20th century, the Zagreb-based sculptor been included in many important exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1976), the São Paulo Biennale (1979), and Documenta XI (2001). Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1998, this is only the third work by the artist to ever appear at auction.
THE COLLECTION OF ANNE AND STÉPHANE TATISCHEFF
This group of 12 works was collected by two supporters of the Russian dissident movement, Anne and Stéphane Tatischeff, living in Russia in the early 1970s. As the Cultural Attaché at the French Embassy in Moscow (1971 to 1974), Stéphane established a channel to smuggle manuscripts and other documents by dissidents out of Russia. When Stéphane was declared persona non grata by the KGB in 1977, the pair continued to support the movement from France. Their house in became a magnet for Russian émigrés and rare visitors from the Soviet Union.
Acquired directly from the artists, and never offered for sale before, the collection includes works by some of the most important representatives of Soviet Nonconformism. It is a testament to the contribution of Russian émigrés to the survival of dissident thought and unofficial artistic production in the Soviet Union.
• Vladimir Weisberg (1924-85), Portrait of a Lady, 1967, oil on canvas, 75.5 by 57.5cm, £40,000-60,000. RUSSIA
• Dmitri Krasnopevtsev (b. 1925), Still Life with Jug and Plum, 1974, oil on Masonite, 36.5 by 40cm, £10,000-15,000. RUSSIA