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Russian artists are coming to town and into their own

January 16, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Mr. Lamm -- imprisoned in the Soviet Union for three years after applying for an exit visa in the 1970s -- says his works from the "Seventh Heaven" series are concerned with "a dream of flying away from a 'paradise' with cruel rules and the hope to know another paradise. They evoke the dream about another system which is more human."

MA And Mr. Filatov, speaking through his wife, Natasha, as trans

lator, says his work combines elements of futurism with "the sad irony about the utopian products of Russian modernism" and the dilemma between the rational and the emotional, "which may be the dilemma of the whole of modernism."

The practitioners of Russian contemporary art do not all belong to a specific stylistic school. Nevertheless, Nathan Berman, a New York dealer who handles many of these artists, thinks there is something about them that has great appeal for Western audiences.

"Russians touch people on a very personal level," he says. "Their art tends to be very emotional, warmer, more involved. It touches the public a lot more than some of the colder, removed postmodern art in the West. Russian artists have always attempted to reach out and affect the viewer. And there is more narrative in Russian art than there is in Western art."

Although Russian artists are becoming better known, the price of their work remains low. The Evergreen show is presented as a museum-style exhibit rather than a commercial one, so the works are not for sale. However, works in the show are valued at up to $18,000, says Mr. Gertsman -- inexpensive for artists with work in leading museums.

Some of the Russian artists' prints sell for about $1,000, according to Mr. Levy.

"Works of these people are very affordable," he says. "The majority of these artists are under-priced, in some cases by several times or more in terms of their historical importance and the quality of the art."

Since much of their art was suppressed during the Soviet regime, he adds, "Most of these artists are better known in Europe and America than in their own countries. But there is a developing market over there for the art of some of these people as their importance to their own cultural history becomes so obvious."

Mr. Berman says Russian banks are starting to put together collections. "Aside from realizing this may be a terrific investment, they realize it's an investment in their heritage and culture, things that give these institutions a more benevolent image."

But as yet, conditions are not good enough to produce numerous private collectors, at least not outside the major centers of the former Soviet Union.

"There is not a big market in Ukraine for art," says Dmitry Dymshits, an artist from Ukraine and chairman of a creative association called Kolir (translation: color). "There is a difficult economic situation, with small earnings and high inflation. A few people in the free market are rich, and some of the rich buy pictures, but seldom."

A downtown Baltimore gallery, the Roxx Limited, is presenting a series of exhibits by Kolir artists, including a show this month featuring the work of Mr. Dymshits, Victor Savinkov, Victor Pogorelov and others.

The difficulty of selling at home encourages the showing of art from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the West. In addition to the two shows currently at Evergreen and Roxx, there were recent exhibits of Soviet photography and East European ceramics presented by the Contemporary, Baltimore's museum without walls.

One hopes there will be more to come.

ART SHOWS

What: "Four Russian Messages: Carnival or Drama?"

Where: Evergreen House Museum of the Johns Hopkins University, 4545 North Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 1

Call: (410) 516-0895

What: "15 Master Artists from Kharkov, Ukraine"

Where: The Roxx Limited, 336 North Charles St.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (Thursday evenings until 8 p.m.), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, through Jan. 29

Call: (410) 837-3518

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