Станислав Плутенко / Публикации / The Sunday Times

Art amateurs discover a new Russian talent

RUSSIAN art has flourished in the heady atmosphere of freedom since the end of the communist era. Now a pair of amateur enthusiasts have beaten professional art dealers at their own game by bringing an exciting new talent to the attention of the West.

     The powerful works of Stanislav Plutenko went on sale in the West End of London last Thursday.

     The mainly British buyers of the paintings by Plutenko, 35, a fast-rising Russian artist with no specialist training who started his working life designing turbines, had a remarkable coup to celebrate.

     The coup's roots are in the early 1990s when Russia began to loom large in the careers of Alan Hendrickson and Geoffrey Roughfon, who are businessmen, scientists and art collectors.

     The privately sponsored show of Plutenko's works at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), The Mall, was their idea.

     They had set up a successful software business in Moscow which entailed monthly visits to the Russian capital, but as the business grew it made vastly greater demands on the time of Hendrickson and his colleagues.

     Lucidly, there was still lime for art. The two partners “discovered” Plutenko's works in a gallery named Arbat-34, in a district of Moscow where art, craft and antique shops, proliferate, and immediately bought the three paintings by him on offer there.

     “I bought them because I liked them, but I must admit I also thought the day might come when I would make a profit on them,” says American-born Hendrickson, who enthusiastically changed his nationality as a gesture to Britain which gave him the opportunity to make his first million.

     On subsequent visits to Moscow, Hendricfcson and Roughton found themselves in keen competition with several other western private collectors who had also discovered Plutenko's work. The artist had one-man shows in Stockholm, Helsinki, Ulm in Germany, other exhibitions in Russia and at private galleries in America.

     His paintings invariably sold as quickly as they came off the easel, and the partners often arrived at the gallery in Moscow only to find there was nothing available. They eventually resorted to paying the gallery owner a “sight-unseen” reservation fee, and over (three years managed to build up a small collection of Pliilcnko's paintings.

     In 1995 Hendrickson and Roughton were able to meet Plutenko, suggested the idea of a one-man show in London and offered to finance it on a private basis.

     The painter agreed and reserved his output for the next year as the basis of the show (which runs at the ICA until October 1). All the 42 works on exhibition are for sale, with a mixture of owners; prices vary considerably, from f2,000 to  f12,500.

     Hendrickson certainly cannot be accused of selling his sights too low: his posters for the event refer to “the first London show of works by Russia's leading contemporary artist”.

     Ever a realist, Hendrickson knows that many thousands of pounds in expenses — commitments to the arlist, gallery staffing, publicity, framing and so on — have to be accounted for before a penny of profit comes the organisers' way.

     The Plulenko oeuvre is a portfolio of glossy, magical fantasy by an artist who knows he can call lor atttention by means of his bizzare images that sometimes suggest Dali, and then by the sheer power of drawing and painling technique. You get a lot for your money.

     Meanwhile back at the dacha, Russian dealers are reported to be spending much more time and effort on home ground in Moscow and St Petersburg. This is believed to reflect the increasing confidence of an expanding group of Russian collectors who try to impress their colleagues with the symbols of success: the houses, cars, holidays in the West — and paintings such as glitzy 19th and 20th century works by Aivazovsk, Repin, Chepik and Shishkin: from a few thousand pounds to f150,000.

     James Buttcrwick, a well-travelled British dealer, said in Moscow: “People now realise that the market is here and prices are now almost on a level with those in the West.”

     In Britain the weekly Antiques Trade Gazette quoted a Russian banker at Sotheby's Russian auction last December. Asked why he had bought one particular portrait, the banker replied: “Весause it was expensive.”

Peter Johnson

Станислав Плутенко / Публикации / The Sunday Times
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