Billionaire Roman Abramovich, known for his penchant for collecting art, has acquired a major selection of works by the priciest living Russian artist Ilya Kabakov who has been living in New York since 1987.
Although the cost hasn’t been disclosed, according to art insiders it could be as much as $60 million, while Abramovich's fortune amounts to $12.1bn according to Forbes.
The artist's wife and collaborator, Emilia, said “it’s one of the largest Kabakov collections in the world.”
On top of it, “it’s also the most outstanding in terms of quality and historical significance,” according to Emilia.
The collection created by the founder of Moscow’s conceptualist-art movement is said to feature about 40 paintings, as well as rare albums and installations. The majority of the work was created by Kabakov during his most important creative period, before he left Moscow in the late 1980s.
Kabakov earned his reputation as Russia’s most expensive living artist in 2008 when his 1982 painting “Beetle” sold for $5.8 million at Phillips auction house in London.
The seller of the key bulk of works is American collector John L. Stewart. It took him two decades to assemble it.
According to Natalia Kolodzei of the US-based Kolodzei Art Foundation, which promotes 20th-century Russian art, the collection is "priceless because it has many historic works that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Stewart has been trying to sell the Kabakov group privately for several years and its asking price kept changing, according to art dealers and collectors of Russian art.
According to Kolodzei, John Stewart’s collection boasts several masterpieces which could be of the same value as his pricey ‘Beetle’.
The collection also featured eight albums of a series entitled “The 10 Characters,” created by Kabakov between 1968 and 1975. Each album has from 32 and 72 pages containing texts and pencil drawings with the major theme being the artistic movement of the 20th Century.
Because of their fragility, the original albums are rarely put on public display. Two similar albums from the “The 10 Characters” group can be found in Paris, in the Centre Pompidou.
Among the Stewart collection are also several paintings from Kabakov’s signature “Holidays” series. Some of them were unveiled in 2000, during the “Ilya Kabakov: 1969-1998” exhibition at Bard College. One of them, “Holidays #10”, later fetched $2.4 million at a Phillips auction.
“We knew the collection was on the market, and we were concerned that it would be sold at auction piece by piece,” Itar-Tass news agency has quoted Emilia Kabakov as saying. “Now it’s saved. It has a future as a collection," she emphasized.
Abramovich and his partner, socialite Dasha Zhukova, have long been the Kabakovs’ patrons. In 2008, Moscow's Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, then run by Zhukova, hosted the first retrospective exhibition of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov in the Russian capital. One of the installations from the display, “The Red Wagon,” later became part of the State Hermitage Museum collection in St. Petersburg, as a 'collective gift' of Abramovich, Zhukova and the Kabakovs.