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Sotheby's Aims to Sell $7.7 Million of Postwar Russian Art

John Varoli, Bloomberg News

March 10 (Bloomberg) – Sotheby's, the biggest seller of Russian art, is aiming to raise as much as 3.8 million pounds ($7.7 million) at its second annual auction of postwar and contemporary Russian art in London on March 12.

The sale offers 155 lots, including works by leading Soviet- era underground artists Erik Bulatov and Oleg Vassiliev and works by Russia's current art sensation, AES+F, a foursome from Moscow that produces installations, photos and videos.

Russia's economy has grown for nine consecutive years, creating a pool of collectors willing to spend lavishly. Most purchases have been 19th-century and pre-World War II works, but in the past two years interest in postwar art has increased.

''We should take off our hats in a show of respect to international auction houses,'' Russian collector Igor Markin said in an e-mail. ''In large part, they're the ones creating a transparent and growing market for Russian postwar art.''

Most of the auction's consignors are Americans and Europeans and most of the buyers are expected to be Russians. In 2007, Sotheby's reported an 18 percent rise in Russian art sales to $180.9 million. This is a more than 22-fold increase since 2000, when its annual total was $6 million.

Sotheby's first London sale of postwar and contemporary Russian art in February 2007 raised 2.6 million pounds, surpassing the top presale estimate of 2 million pounds and setting new records for 22 artists.

Forbidden Art

The Soviet Union had severe restrictions against non-state- sanctioned art and few Russians dared to collect such works at that time. Much non-approved art was smuggled out of the country and ended up in American and European collections.

The auction's top lot is an oil painting by Vassiliev, ''Before the Sunset'' (1990). It has an estimate of 200,000 pounds to 300,000 pounds.

Painted a year before the Soviet Union collapsed, it's a black canvas with two white geometric shapes. In the middle is a small painted statue of the Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, appearing as if far away and facing a setting sun.

There are three lots by AES+F, including the second most expensive lot, a life-sized bronze sculpture of a girl armed with a futuristic weapon. ''Warrior No. 4'' (2006) is estimated at 100,000 pounds to 150,000 pounds.

''Lemons'' (2003), by the established Moscow art duo Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov, is expected to sell for between 20,000 pounds and 30,000 pounds.

The little-known St. Petersburg artist, Dmitry Shorin, offers ''Roman'' (2004). It's a portrait of Russia's second richest man, Roman Abramovich, and is expected to sell for between 10,000 pounds and 15,000 pounds.

''Prices are not low,'' said Markin, who has his own postwar Russian art museum in downtown Moscow, called ART4RU. He said he probably will not bid because many works are beyond his budget.

''I basically have everything I already want,'' said Markin, who amassed his collection of about 1,000 works by 110 major postwar artists from 2003 to 2007, when prices were lower. ''Now I am just interested in seeing prices rise for these artists.''

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