KYIV - James Butterwick, a British art dealer long committed to advancing the culture of Ukraine, has taken on a new mission -- exhibiting the works of Ukrainian avant-garde artists, and setting them apart from Russian art at one of the world’s most prestigious fairs.
Butterwick is showing 21 paintings of established and lesser-known artists at this year’s European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, from March 10-19.
The participation of this Russian-speaking expert with important, high-value material boosts Ukraine’s prestige, as well as its integration into the global art market.
Since 2000, organizers have published an annual TEFAF Art Market Report, based on data from auctioneers, dealers, collectors, industry observers and art sales databases to produce a comprehensive global perspective on economic trends in the art market.
Butterwick’s decision to list certain works under a more obscure category -- “Ukrainian avant-garde” -- is a bold move with market implications for a body of work traditionally been classified as “Russian art.” He cites Sotheby’s 2010 sale, “Ukrainian Avant-Garde Art: The Odessan Parisians,” as a breakthrough moment for Ukrainian art.
“Russians don’t want to differentiate between ‘Russian’ and ‘Ukrainian’ avant-garde, but for me the difference is perceptible,” Butterwick said in an interview. “In Ukraine, art has always been less tied up in the state.”
TEFAF, now held three times a year on two continents, has emerged as the world’s leading fair for art, antiques, and design. It is held up an arbiter of quality.
Uniting more than 250 leading art dealers with 75,000 visitors, the event prides itself on blue-chip content and clientele, emphasizing community-building. TEFAF is no vanity fair – sales are regularly described as “solid,” even in times of economic decline. In addition to the traditional areas of old master paintings and antique works, visitors can see and buy a wide variety of classical, modern and contemporary art, as well as jewelry, 20th century design, and works on paper.
Against this background, Butterwick has brought works by early 20th century masters priced at 5,000–150,000 euros,
His show, From Utopia to Tragedy. Ukrainian Avant-Garde 1914-34, focuses on the dynamic, close-knit creative community that exploded in Kharkiv during the city’s brief stint as capital of Soviet Ukraine (1919-34). A lavishly illustrated color catalogue weaves together the narrative that unites the works.
The cover image, Boris Kosarev’s 1921 Portrait of Picasso, was shown at the 2012 Kosarev retrospective in New York alongside his twin portrait of futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov.
His muse Maria Sinyakova, whose “incredibly Ukrainian” work imbues the futurist method with a folky aesthetic, is represented by five works. They range from Tree of Life (1914) and Carousel (1916) in her primitivist style to exquisite versions of her 1920s Venus and Washerwomen, made for art historian Dmitro Gorbachov when she was over 80.
Vasyl Ermilov’s rare Design for a Recreation Room in the Kharkov Palace of Pioneers, formerly in the collection of the late Sotheby’s owner Alfred Taubman, is an historic work of great significance. The “Palace” – an avant-garde culture venue – opened in 1935, but was destroyed by the Nazis.
TEFAF rigorously checks the quality, authenticity and condition of the works of art on sale at its fairs, using the latest technical equipment. Buyers can feel confident that any object offered to them has been reviewed by leading experts in the field.
Butterwick provides a free-of-charge authentication service of Russian and Ukrainian avant-garde. He is an outspoken critic of self-styled experts who use fakes and forgeries to plug the gaps in the post-Soviet moneyed class’s knowledge of art history.
Butterwick calls for the strengthening the weak infrastructure behind Ukrainian avant-garde. This could be bolstered with more research, more publications, more exhibitions, more restoration work in museums and more knowledge exchange.
Since 2014, this British business man has been involved in charity work for children displaced by the conflict in Ukraine. He regularly sponsors cultural exchanges between Ukraine and the UK.
In recent years, Butterwick’s efforts have been geared towards championing a “great unknown genius” Alexander Bogomazov. This potentially world-class artist has had little world exposure.
“I consider him to be of enormous importance, to Ukraine as a country and to its prestige. Getting museums to buy him is an important step,” Butterwick said.
At TEFAF 2015-16, Butterwick sold six Bogomazovs to the Kröller Müller Museum. In 2016, he published a well-researched catalog of the colorist’s works, with a catalog raisonné, an annotated listing of all known works by an artist, in development.
Thanks to Butterwick’s efforts, a Bogomazov retrospective is to open at the National Art Museum of Ukraine this fall. With funding from local and foreign art patrons, the exhibition will present restored works from the museum’s collection as well as pieces from private collections – including Butterwick’s own.
"We're looking forward to the project, though it's at times been a challenging process for our modestly-funded institution,” Yulia Lytvynets, the museum’s general director, said in an interview. "It seems that funding for culture is becoming more and more bureaucratized every year."
Butterwick will also participate in the spring edition of TEFAF New York, on May 4-8, albeit with a more Russian-themed selection. For further information, visit: www.jamesbutterwick.com
Slider photo: Alexander Bogomazov's Study for Sawyers, 1928, is valued at 40,000 Euros. It may be reunited with the original painting for a show of his works this fall at the National Museum of Ukraine.
Myroslava Hartmond is the owner of Triptych: Global Arts Workshop, Ukraine’s first private fine art gallery, in operation since 1988. She is a research associate of the Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford, where she explores the role of cultural diplomacy in Ukraine. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted March 10, 2017