Paintings rescued from Ukraine—by being rolled up in drainpipes—offered in Sotheby’s humanitarian fundraising sale

In response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine provoked by Russia’s invasion, Sotheby’s has announced that it will be raising funds for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Ukraine via the sale of works by 15 contemporary Ukrainian artists and 13 international artists. Bidding for the online auction Contemporary Discoveries runs from 13-19 May and the works will be on display at the auction house’s New Bond Street galleries.

All 13 international artists directly donated works to the sale, including Richard Deacon’s Under the Weather #4 (2018), (est £25,000-£35,000) and Rachel Kneebone’s whorl-ii (2021), (est. £12,000-£15,000). The Ukrainian artists Oksana Mas and Nazar Bilyk also donated works. Sotheby’s will be returning 100% of the buyer’s premium from the auction back to the Ukrainian artists who have donated.

The London-based dealer James Butterwick, who focuses on Russian and Eastern European art, donated a work from his collection: Lviv artist Ivan Turetskyy’s Entrance into the Unknown (2019), (est £4,000-£6,000), plus two works by Mykola Bilous, whose canvases are inspired by movie stills, together with London dealer Alon Zakaim. He also facilitated the donation of nine more works—three by Kyiv’s Tsekh Gallery, including holidaysa monumental 2018 watercolor and pencil work by Yevgeny Petrov of Odesa, and three by artists, Maria Musiiaka from Kharkiv, Maria Bilyan from Ternopil, and Ivan Turetskyy from Lviv.

Of the sale’s Ukrainian artists, Oksana Mas, who is originally from Odesa and known for relational art and Neo-expressionism, has the highest estimates of £8,000 to £12,000.

Oksana Mas’s Black Sphere Against a Red Backgroundestimated at £8,000-£12,000, is being offered at Sotheby’s Contemporary Discoveries online auction

“Ukraine has given me so much, it’s only natural that I give something back,” Butterwick told The Art Newspaper, recalling the magical, “absolute chaos” of Turetskyy’s studio in Lviv, the “simply stunning city” near Poland that has become a hub for refugees. “They are a very lovely people, with a very rich culture, one from which I’ve benefited enormously.

In March, Butterwick held an auction of works by Oleksandr Bogomazov, an artist in whom he specializes, and plans to donate 15% of his Tefaf Maastricht sales for Ukrainian relief aid, with a goal of raising $250,000 by the end of June.

Katia Vozianova, Butterwick’s representative in Ukraine, saved some of the works now being offered at the auction out of Kyiv together with Oleksandr Shchelushchenko, founder of Tsekh contemporary art gallery in the Ukrainian capital. Although Vozianova had left for Romania immediately after the Russia invaded and spent a week there as a volunteer, she realized that she must go back to save the works out of a sense of responsibility to the artists and because “Russia is planning to destroy Ukrainian identity ” and “we feared that they would not steal them but burn them,” she tells The Art Newspaper, speaking from Germany. Once they got the paintings to Lviv, they were rolled up in drainpipes as the handiest, most convenient form of transport.

Sebastian Fahey, Sotheby’s managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa tells The Art Newspaper: “This is a sale that has been brought together with the much valued assistance of galleries and curators—in Ukraine and abroad—with the collective goal of using art as a force to support the invaluable work of the IRC in the region. We are uniquely positioned to lend aid to the arts community in the face of crisis and want to be intentional in this moment on spotlighting Ukrainian artists.”

Ourania Dionysiou, the IRC’s vice president, international philanthropy and partnerships, says in a statement that “this initiative builds on a legacy of impact and global partnership between the International Rescue Committee and Sotheby’s.” The organizations partnered on auctions in New York in 2019 and 2020, a portion of proceeds of which were also directed to humanitarian crises.

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