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Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby’s 1988 Auction in Moscow


From 23 January 2018 to 28 February 2018




West gallery

Bidding for Glasnost continues a series of research exhibitions at Garage devoted to various events and phenomena in the history of Russian and Soviet contemporary art.

On July 7 1988, Sotheby’s held an auction at the Sovincenter in Moscow that would become the most controversial art event of the Soviet era. Initiated by auctioneer Simon de Pury, more than 100 lots of avant-garde and “unofficial” contemporary works were offered to international collectors flown in especially for the event, watched over by incredulous local artists and intelligentsia, who were not permitted to bid under the legislation of the time.

Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby's 1988 Auction in Moscow features raw video footage of the full sale led by Simon de Pury; new interviews with the organizers and ten of the participating artists; a virtual reality installation that transports visitors to the original venue to witness the event; and press reviews and archival documents that together reveal the contradictory perspectives which shroud the auction to this day. The exhibition also includes a number of original lots from the 1988 sale, such as early twentieth century avant-garde works by Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova; Fundamental Lexicon (1986) by Grisha Brushkin, which was the highest-selling contemporary work; and a piece by Ilya Kabakov—All About Him (1971)—that was bought by Alfred Taubman—then chairman of Sotheby’s board of directors—and presented to the USSR’s Ministry of Culture as the founding artwork for a future museum of contemporary art.


Here we’ve put together materials to help you get ready for a visit to the Museum or to take a deep dive into the current programs at Garage.

Public program
Public Program accompanying the research exhibition Bidding for Glasnost: Sotheby’s 1988 Auction in Moscow will allow visitors to get a better understanding of the auction that became one of the turning points in the history of contemporary art in Russia.

The Public Program will open with the discussion “Sotheby’s Auction in Moscow. 30 Years Later”, featuring organizers, participants, and witnesses of the events of 1988, who will try to explain how and why it became possible to run a Sotheby’s auction in the Soviet Union. The speakers will also share their ideas about the role and significance of the auction sales on the development of modern Russia’s artistic landscape.

The series of public events will continue with a lecture delivered by Jeffrey Boloten, Course Leader of the Art & Business semester at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. Boloten will outline the mechanisms of auction houses and the ways auction sales may influence the art market.


Discussion: Sotheby’s Auction in Moscow. 30 Years Later

The speakers, including the organizers of the historical auction, the artists, whose works were presented at the Sotheby’s sales back in 1988, and eyewitnesses, will discuss this milestone and contradictory event in the history of Soviet art life at the time of perestroika.


Monday, January 29
Garage Auditorium