Erik Bulatov - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, March 7, 2017 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Matthias Arndt, Erik Bulatov: Catalogue Raisonne in Two Volumes, Volume 1: Paintings 1952-2011, Cologne, 2014, p. 156 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Defying the established artistic canons of the Soviet art system, Russian artist Erik Bulatov formed part of an ‘unofficial’ Moscow art scene excluded from state cultural events. As a result, he developed a highly-unique style from the 1960s onwards, gaining widespread recognition beyond Russian borders. The present painting from 1990, Happy New Year, ingeniously combines elements of the artist’s recurring engagement with politics, hyperrealism and an ironic use of language.

    A calm, balanced and evenly-lit composition, the photorealist Happy New Year could be mistaken for a photograph at first sight. Exemplary of the artist’s figurative representations of the Soviet Russian landscape, the central figure of a man in a Soviet military uniform is portrayed walking directly towards the viewer. The lack of interaction between the depicted human figures combined with an array of lifeless objects varying from cars to street signs conveys an overall melancholic, quiet mood.

    The presence of unlit Christmas decorations and colourful flags do not succeed in attributing a sense of warmth to the composition. Instead, a sense of hostility prevails; the scene is visually associated to the Soviet building blocks dominating its background. By contrasting a well-intentioned ‘Happy New Year’ wish in printed block letters against the gloomy exterior, Bulatov ironically alludes to the uncertain political climate of his native Russia. In the year 1990 the Soviet Union was gradually coming to an end, officially dissolved by December 1991. Bulatov thus denounces the possibility of happiness in the New Year for the depicted Soviet military official, perhaps extending the irony to the viewer living in equally ambiguous times.

    The lighting employed by Bulatov contributes greatly to the scene’s austerity. Light is of great concern to the artist, who has singled out ‘three types of light: the exterior light that strikes the work, the light originating from the picture itself (which may or may not be there), and a third kind of light which comes through the paint as if from behind that painting’ (Bertrand Lorquin, ‘Erik Bulatov: A Genealogy’, exh. cat. Erik Bulatov: That’s It, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 2006, p. 24).

    Despite limited working conditions and having to illustrate children’s books to earn a living, Bulatov persisted and remained in Russia until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unable to publicly display his work within the restrictive Soviet art system, recognition for his work thus arose internationally, initially featuring in the forty-third Venice Biennale in 1988. Today, Bulatov is one of Russia’s most significant living artists with works in world-renowned art collections including the Museum of Fine Art, Basel, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne.


Happy New Year

signed and titled in cyrillic and dated ‘Erik Bulatov 1990 “с новым годом” Happy New Year”’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
259.1 x 190.5 cm. (102 x 75 in.)
Painted in 1990.

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡♠

Sold for £425,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2017 5pm GMT