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This report is taken from PN Review 98, Volume 20 Number 6, July - August 1994.

Letter from St Petersburg Jeremy Noble

'A loaf of bread and a kilo of art, please,' explained Natalia Alexandrovna, director of the Borey art gallery on Literary' Prospect. 'That is how I want people to think of the pictures on show here. It's not an art exhibition, it's an artistic happening. Wait and see how people will buy.' It was a Saturday evening and this was an unusual auction of paintings by young Petersburg artists.

The Borey is famous for having exhibited a naked man and woman who were then painted by the artist as 'Adam and Eve'. This time the pictures were being sold by weight, a dollar per kilo. Russian artists are now a very commercial breed, and it is perhaps not surprising that if I could have afforded anything I would have needed a thick wallet and a very large carrier bag. There was a time - only two or three years ago - when you could go direct to an artist's studio and buy a picture for roubles. Now, artists have agents who control this 'art market' and price everything in hard currency.

I looked around me, at the rather ragged group of mainly artists' friends, trying not to get in the way of the television cameras: art here is still an everyday news item. I was searching for the discerning new Russian rich, the spiritual descendants of Shchukin and Morozov, those pre-revolutionary Moscow merchants whose nationalised collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century French pictures ...


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