Ukrainian artists lift Kiev auction

But secrecy is still the order of the day

Kiev. Long overshadowed by Russia's deep-pocketed art collectors, Ukraine's art market is finally starting to make an impact. On 15 December, Art Kapital, a Kiev auction house, wrapped up its first year with its fourth auction of Russian and Ukrainian art.

The auction, however, was not a public event, and was conducted with considerable secrecy. Attendance was by invitation only, and burly guards stood at the door. The catalogue of 180 lots did not contain estimates. Bidders were handed a separate sheet with single estimates on the day of the auction. 'We're not ready to have a highly public auction,'' said Sergey Tabalov, 22, Art Kapital's British-educated general director. 'Many of the people bidding here today do not like publicity because in Ukraine it is still not a good idea to show how much money one has to spend.''

The company was also unwilling to confirm the final results of its sale, which were approximately $2m. Works by Ukrainian-born artists, known to the world as 'Russian' artists, clearly led the day. The top lot, Petr Konchalovsky's Rowan Berries on Blue, 1947, sold for $506,000, including a 10% buyer's premium, on an estimate of $460,000. This painting previously sold in May 2005 at Sotheby's London for Ј48,000 ($88,000; top estimate Ј60,000). Stepan Kolesnikov's Morning Prayer, 1933, sold for $143,000 (estimate $100,000).

The auction attracted some of Ukraine's most prominent collectors, including members of parliament and state ministries. Businessman Alexander Suslinksy paid $50,000 for Still Life with Candelabra and Sculpture, undated, by Emmanuel Mane-Katz, the Ukrainian-Jewish artist who emigrated to Paris in 1913.

Mr Suslinksy has long been a prominent buyer at international auction houses. In November 2005 he told The Art Newspaper that he bought some of the top lots at Christie's London Russian sale of art, including Isaac Levitan's painting, Marsh at Evening, 1882, for Ј1.2m ($2.1m), and Ivan Aivazovsky's A Fishing Boat With a Russian Brig at Anchor, 1891, for Ј900,000 ($1.6m).

Mr Tabalov's father, Alexander, who owns the auction house, estimates there are about 100 'serious collectors' in Ukraine, as well as another 3,000 people who are able to make fine art purchases for home decorating purposes. 'The art market in Ukraine will continue to grow,' he says. 'With real estate booming people need to put something on the wall, and many understand it makes financial sense to have fine art because its value will only increase.'

When his food-processing business, Formula Corporation, became profitable in the mid-1990s, Mr Tabalov senior began to collect art. He said his collection now includes over 200 oil paintings with works by 19th-century and 20th-century Russian painters. He has also been a regular at Christie's and Sotheby's Russian art sales in London since 1999.

The Tabalovs' future plans centre around making Art Kapital the leader of Ukraine's art market, and in December they finalised the purchase of a 19th-century building in downtown Kiev. 'We want Art Kapital to be a serious auction house,' says Alexander Tabalov, who intends to include departments for Western European art, furniture and decorative works of art alongside the Russian and Ukrainian teams.

For much of the past three years Ukraine has been wracked by political turmoil that pits the European-leaning western and central part of the country against the more pro-Russian eastern part. Art Kapital said its clients come from both sides.

John Varoli

Art Market
New markets Issue: 188
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