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Kabakov's 'Beetle' to Lead 4.8 Million-Pound Soviet Art Auction

John Varoli, Bloomberg News

Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) Ц Phillips de Pury & Co. hopes to benefit from rising demand for Russian art as it sells a private European collection of Soviet non-conformist works in London for as much as 4.8 million pounds ($9.4 million).

The 39 lots offered tomorrow include works by Ilya Kabakov Ц including his painting ''The Beetle,'' the top lot Ц Erik Bulatov and Oleg Vassiliev. These men were friends who illustrated children's books and after work, secretly pioneered the Moscow conceptualist movement.

Russia's growing economy has spurred the emergence of collectors who spend lavishly on fine art. While most purchases are 19th-century and pre-World War II art, demand for postwar art has grown over the past two years.

''The market is booming,'' said Washington D.C.-based collector and art dealer, Mark Kelner. ''But there are red flags that I can see in the distance. It troubles me that only Russians are buying major postwar Russian art.''

''As long as Russia's oil keeps on pumping, prices will hold,'' said Kelner. Record prices of crude oil and other commodities are underpinning Russia's economic growth.

Kabakov's ''Beetle'' (1982) is enamel paint on wood, a detailed study of a beetle on a leaf. It has a poem on the bottom written in Russian by a 10-year-old girl.

Originally purchased by an American collector visiting Moscow in 1987, it has an estimate of 1.2 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds. Soviet officials brokered that deal, and Kabakov said he received nothing from the sale.

Water Sprite

Kabakov's ''The Little Water Sprite'' (1980) is an enamel paint on board depicting an elfin creature dragging down a man in a suit. The estimate is 150,000 pounds to 200,000 pounds.

''These two are the last of the paintings from this period up for sale,'' said Emilia Kabakov, who resides with her husband, Ilya, on Long Island, New York. ''All others are already in museum collections.''

Moscow businessman and art collector, Igor Markin, believes that ''Beetle'' will beat the top estimate and sell for as much as 2.5 million pounds. That would make it the most expensive Russian postwar artwork sold at auction.

The record is held by Kabakov's oil on canvas, ''La Chambre de Luxe'' (1981), sold in June at Phillips in London for 2 million pounds, compared with a top estimate of 600,000 pounds.

Markin said he'll bid on works by Natalia Nesterova, each with estimates of 25,000 pounds to 35,000 pounds, as well as two works by Dmitry Plavinsky, each with estimates of 10,000 pounds to 15,000 pounds.

Bulatov's ''Glory to the Communist Party'' (1975) is a mocking tribute to Soviet communist propaganda and features huge Cyrillic letters that spell the title. The estimate is 500,000 pounds to 750,000 pounds.

Vassiliev's ''Variations of the Ogonyok Magazine Cover'' (1980), is a photo-realistic depiction of a Communist Party meeting blotted out by a supernatural light. The estimate is 100,000 pounds to 150,000 pounds.

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