Erik Bulatov - The John L. Stewart Collection of Russian Contemporary Art London Friday, October 12, 2007 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Exhibited

    Ridgefield (Connecticut), Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Adaptation & Negation of Socialist Realism, June 9 – October 7, 1990; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, USSR Today, September 21 – November 4, 1990; Santiago de Compostela, Auditoria de Galicia, No Vacio, Artistas Rusos Contemporaneos, May 11 – June 30, 1991; Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Face à l’Histoire 1933-1996, December 19, 1996 – April 7, 1997; Moscow, State Tretyakov Gallery, Erik Bulatov, That’s It., September 19 – November 19, 2006

  • Literature

    J. Gambrell and Y. Barabanov, Adaptation & Negation of Socialist Realism, Ridgefield, 1990, p. 11 (illustrated); B. Schwabsky and J. Bobko, “Perestroika in New York, A Conversation with Erik Bulatov”, Arts Magazine, November, 1989, n.p. (illustrated); A. Gonzalez, L. Sobrino Manzanares and M. Tupitsyn, No Vacio, Artistas Rusos Contemporaneos, Galicia, 1991, p. 70 (illustrated); N. Divona, N. Godzina, A. Kharitonova, I. Lebedeva and A. Yerofeev, Erik Bulatov, That’s It., Moscow, 2006 p. 120 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    After a large retrospective held in the fall of 2006 at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, nobody had any doubts that there is today a great Russian artist and that this artist's name is Erik Bulatov. What the viewers saw in the exhibition galleries was not only powerful conceptual art; this was a kind of apotheosis of painting as the mightiest expressive means of contemporary art. Works, gathered from all over the world (and works by Erik Bulatov belong to the collections of such world-famous museums as the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, The Museum of Fine Art, Basel, The Museum of Fine Art, Bern, Zimmerli Museum, USA, etc.) presented the artist’s creative path, marked by the utmost integrity of the artist’s creative concept and his aspiration for its perpetual development.

    Perestroika was painted by Erik Bulatov in 1989, when the situation in the USSR had changed dramatically and the artist had the real opportunity to leave the country and to start actively working and exhibiting abroad. That same year Perestroika was displayed at exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and at Phyllis Kind Gallery in New York. It was purchased from this latter exhibition by John Stewart and for 18 years has remained one of the key works in his collection.
    This painting was preceded by another one on the same subject, painted a year earlier while the artist was still in the USSR. The sketch for this painting, now in the collection of John Stewart, was also produced in Moscow. In the same year, 1989, by order of French authorities, Bulatov produced drawings for a huge banner which was mounted on a dirigible and raised in the air in Lyon during celebrations commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the French Revolution, and again the word “perestroika” became the main element of these sketches. Why did this theme become so important for the artist that he appealed to it several times within two years? It is already hard today to imagine the feelings and thoughts which reigned over the people in the mid- and late 1980's after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and had proclaimed the beginning of perestroika. This word was repeated and manipulated in all sorts of ways during those years in the USSR; it was constantly reproduced in Western mass-media and became no less popular and current in the West than in the USSR. In the country of victorious socialism, thoughtful people associated great expectations for serious radical changes with this word. Nevertheless, it was impossible not to notice the fact that the ideology of perestroika and the methods by which it was being implemented continued to be quite Soviet.

    The painting by Bulatov became the most profound aesthetic understanding of this phenomenon, its exhaustive artistic formula. Huge letters constituting the word “PERESTROIKA” (this is the only case in Bulatov's work when volumetric letters were used) act as blocks of a monumental construction site which powerfully rises from the left corner to the center, where the letters “T” and “P” (R in Latin) rush to the foreground, directly toward the spectator, forming a high-rise tower that runs right into the upper edge of the painting. These letters, in fact, are a hammer and a sickle - the main emblems of Soviet order - which were embodied by Vera Mukhina in monumental form in her sculpture The Worker and Farmer that crowned the top of the Soviet Pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair exhibition in Paris. Bulatov does not only allude to the famous gesture of the characters of Mukhina's sculpture who grasp firmly these symbolic tools, he recreates the incredible burst of this most metaphoric Soviet sculpture, using only the system of block letters that move dynamically towards and away from the viewer.

    The monumental construction "PERESTROIKA" as well as the whole of the painting are, almost monochrome and painted in the whitewashed red that the artist considers to be the beginning of everything.The high-rise tower ‘Hammer and Sickle,’ rising above the viewer and moving towards him, does not allow the eye to see further into the depths, concealing the luminescent break in the clouds where the sun should be. The eye wants to penetrate there, behind the mighty block letters; the break in the clouds summons us into another world, into a sphere of almost heavenly luminescence, into a world of absolute freedom. But is becomes clear that the tower is too high and monumental and a break-through and exit are impossible. Bulatov's painting is simultaneously a monument to perestroika and a definite statement of perestroika's Communist genealogy, as well as some rather accurate foresight; at the same time, the artist's position is exceptionally correct and unobtrusive. Bulatov did not ever consider himself an emigrant, though he had a lot of reasons to think critically about Soviet Power - even in late 1980's when Western collectors were exporting his works from the country but the Ministry of Culture was stamping “No artistic value" on his canvases. Perestroika became a very important moment for the artist, that is why he had so often turned to this subject, trying to examine the core of what was going on by means of artistic analysis, and this was brilliantly achieved in the 1989 painting. To create the impression of maximal estrangement and the neutrality of the utterance, the artist turns to the aesthetic of a poster. "The character of the image, its language, should be perceived by the viewer not as my personal one, but as ordinary, commonplace, as ‘in reality.’ And what is more commonplace to us than the language of media art?” – says the artist.
    Works by Bulatov are only "pretending to be semi-artistic advertising production, but they always turn out to be paintings, genuine paintings in the most classical sense of this word.” The content of his paintings - and this fully relates to Perestroika - is always a profound metaphor, reflecting fundamental questions of existence, and the embodiment of such content acquires the character of a complete artistic formula. The conceptualism of Bulatov's works is no less striking than the perfection and completeness of their execution. The artist works on his concept meticulously and for a long time, and colored pencils and brushes are his only instruments. A preliminary drawing is transferred to a large canvas and is meticulously drawn using colored pencils and only then do paints come into play. "I feel pleasure and a certain sense of pride that I am using the same means as artists did 5000 years ago. I feel a close connection to these artists and this gives me a feeling of freedom and the necessary distance in relation to the social material with which I am working," says Erik Bulatov. - Zelfira Tregulova



Oil on canvas.
106 1/4 x 107 3/4 in. (269.24 x 273.7 cm)
Signed, titled and dated “E. Bulatov 89 Perestroika [in Cyrillic]” on the reverse.

£500,000 - 750,000 

Sold for £557,600

The John L. Stewart Collection of Russian Contemporary Art

13 October 2007, 6pm