James Butterwick is perhaps best known as a Russian avant-garde art dealer, but in recent years he has focused on the Ukrainian artists market. Al Tefaf Maastricht (25-30 June), presents 25 pieces by Oleksandr Bohomazov, a leading exponent of the Ukrainian avant-garde whose life centers on Kiev, where one of his granddaughters still lives and her former homes miraculously survived the Russian bombing .
The merchant, who first saw Bohomazov’s works at the Barbican in 1988, acknowledges that his drive to commercialize the artist’s work may be misinterpreted as cynical. (Butterwick is donating 15% of its Tefaf profits to Ukrainian relief funds.) “Some will say I’m doing this just to sell the job,” Butterwick says. “But what I’m doing is promoting an avant-garde artist. I don’t think Bohomazov is great [Kazimir] Malevich. But I don’t think it’s a million miles away.
Just as Malevich was at the center of debates about Russian colonialism in art, Butterwick says unequivocally that Bohomazov, who was ethnically Russian, belongs to Ukraine. “He was born in Ukraine,” says Butterwick. “Of his 50 years on earth, 46 were spent in or around Kiev. This places it quite clearly in the Ukrainian camp. “
Bohomazov’s prices have skyrocketed since the 1990s. In Maastricht, Butterwick and Martin Muller of the Modernism gallery in San Francisco are offering 19 works on paper, priced between € 20,000 and € 165,000, and six oil paintings, ranging from € 250,000 to € 1.75 million for Bohomazov’s Landscape, Caucasus (wavy composition1915). Self portrait (1914-15) is priced at £ 950,000. The works will also be exhibited at the Butterwick gallery in London on 9 June.
Bohomazov’s wife, Wanda Monastyrska, with whom he initially had a tortured courtship, has been at the center of his life and art and is depicted in several portraits on display at the Tefaf. Butterwick has a close relationship with the couple’s granddaughters and provides insights into the couple’s relationship.
In the portrait Wanda Monastyrska in front of a New Year tree (1911, € 40,000), “he’s actually starting to take an interest in Bohomazov not just as an artist but as a potential partner,” says Butterwick. “He’s looking at Him, but in this slightly suspicious way.”
After Bohomazov died of tuberculosis in 1930, Monastyrska hid his work from the Soviet state, which had turned against the avant-garde, and dragged him to safety in a wagon after the Nazi invasion during World War II. Her work was rediscovered and exhibited, still with some risk, in the 1960s. The provenance of all but one of Tefaf’s works is directly attributable to the family.
Tefaf takes place this month in place of the usual March spot after the fair was postponed to December due to the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. The number of dealers rose to 243, of which 21 exhibiting for the first time. Among the leading European paintings on display are those by Gustave Courbet Sleeping girl (1847) at the 19C Gallery and by Luca Giordano The Triumph of Galatea (1675) at the Colnaghi Gallery. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, a beneficiary of the Tefaf Museum Restoration Fund, will exhibit the works of Vincent van Gogh Poplars near Nuenen (1885) —the first time a work was shown prior to restoration.