Contemporary Art Market: Exile who fled Stalin makes artistic comeback

Geraldine Norman
Sunday 08 May 1994 23:02

A RUSSIAN painter who fled to America from the Stalin regime in 1929 held his first show in Moscow last week.

David Margolis, 83, is one of the few survivors of the heroic Russian avant-garde that celebrated the political victory of the revolution with pioneering abstract paintings and sculptures. He has remained a Russian 'Constructivist', as the school was called, building aluminium sculptures that develop the symbolic meaning of the Phoenician and Hebraic alpahabets, and making paintings inspired by 'fractional geometry', a concept developed in 1975 by the IBM mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot as a new way of looking at complex shapes in nature.

Margolis claims that his art has evolved and developed the concepts pioneered at the time of the revolution. That was why the idea of showing his work attracted the M'ARS Gallery in Moscow, a co- operative run by three painters, two sculptors, two art critics and an administrator. Profits go towards forming a contemporary art collection with which the co-operative intends opening Moscow's first contemporary art museum.

Margolis's paintings in the Moscow show are priced between dollars 1,500 and dollars 7,000, low by American standards. But this suits the Moscow market where primarily decorative paintings and sculptures are sold to foreigners fascinated by the idea of 'investing' in Russian art at very modest prices. When translated into roubles dollars 1,000 is a fortune.

The Moscow market has spilled over into Western capitals; French police recently raided a sweatshop in the Paris suburbs where Russian immigrants were painting pictures to feed into local auctions of Russian art.

At Bonham's Lots Road Galleries on 17 April, a sale of 200 Russian paintings and 50 sculptures was packed out with bidders attracted by pre-sale estimates that started at pounds 5 and were mostly under pounds 100; in the event, prices ranged from pounds 30 to pounds 4,000 and only 11 out of 250 lots were left unsold.

The Roy Miles Gallery in Bruton Street has made the up- market running in Russian contemporary art with prices ranging from pounds 500 to pounds 100,000; but Miles seems to have accepted the Russian bonanza at these prices is nearly over - he opened his first show of Vietnamese art on 4 May.

The Alberti Gallery, whose proprietor, Timothy Bruce-Dick, has taken over the space at the Corner of Cork Street and Burlington Gardens for the next two months, is also showing a range of Russian artists. Every Saturday the gallery serves coffee and croissants and artworks below pounds 100.

At the Burlington New Gallery (4 New Burlington St, W1) two more Russians are on show until next Monday. Solomon Rossin's animal and figure studies are priced from pounds 4,000 to pounds 14,000; Vitali V's brightly coloured paintings and painted sculptures range from pounds 1,000 to pounds 5,500.

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