Lot 2
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Erik Bulatov

700,000 - 900,000 USD
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  • Erik Bulatov
  • New York
  • signed, titled and dated '89 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 41 3/4 x 70 in. 106 x 177.8 cm.


Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1989


Sue Taylor, "Beyond the Picture Plane," Art in America, March 1990, pp. 172 - 173, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

In New York and other paintings by the Russian artist, Erik Bulatov, the infinity of space and sky is an eloquent and basic metaphor for freedom. The beauty of clouds drifting in a blue sky or lit by a golden sunset has been an expressive element throughout art history, capable of conveying Romanticism, religious overtones and transcendent emotion.  Bulatov, who graduated from the Moscow Art School in 1952 and the Surikov Art Institute in 1958, was a member of the ``unofficial'' artists who were excluded from state cultural events in Soviet Russia. Even while a student, Bulatov developed independent approaches to art outside official channels, so the concept of freedom would have profound meaning in his work and in his life.  Yet, Bulatov continued to reference traditional and Modernist strains of the Russian artistic heritage. In paintings such as New York, bold lettering contrasts with the realistic setting of sky or landscape as Bulatov merges the Russian 20th century avant-garde with the traditional genres of the 19th century.

In the 2006 catalogue for the Bulatov exhibition at Kestnergesellschaft in Hannover, Anne Prenzler wrote of the confrontation of illusionary realism and graphic typology in Bulatov's painting. While Russian Suprematism and Constructivism also used lettering and symbols, `` Bulatov, however, does not continue the assertion of autonomy and the negation of connection to the real world of those movements; he turns autonomous, abstract pictorial language on its head, transforming it into concrete, representational legible typography with the character of concrete poetry. The effect of the letters is not only linguistic but is also, and is primarily a visual one. The word formations are dynamic elements within the structure of the image; they produce moments of movement, drawing the viewer into a three-dimensional, illusory space.'' (Exh. Cat., Hannover, Kestnergesellschaft, Erik Bulatov: Freedom is Freedom, 2006, p. 11)

In Bulatov's compositions of textual art and landscape, our brain initially responds to the lettering and our intellectual ``reading'' of the surface is two-dimensional. ``New York'' is immediately recognized by the viewer, soon followed by the more aesthetic impulses. Throughout his oeuvre, Bulatov has used both perspectival as well as flattened, two dimensional lettering, similar to the American master of text within Contemporary art, Ed Ruscha.  In the case of New York, the receding letters imply movement and space, drawing the viewer into the lush and luminous sky, whereas in other paintings, Bulatov's flattened letters obstruct the viewer by their frontal geometry. As in Ruscha's Standard Station (1966), the receding perspective is determined by the station's name and the diagonals of the building, just as the vanishing words of New York define the space of the present work. 

Bulatov further merges the lettering with the atmosphere of the skyscape by constructing the words with blue sky and white clouds in contrast to the receding, golden light of the far horizon.  Bulatov continued to employ the words ``New York'' in later works, but the soaring and evocative imagery of this painting is meaningful within the historical context of this 1989 painting. The years of 1987 and 1988 witnessed some of the most sweeping changes in Mikhail Gorbachev's Perestroika that dramatically restructured the Soviet economy and ultimately contributed to the collapse of the Soviet system. Bulatov's work had appeared in international exhibitions such as the Venice Biennial and his first United States exhibitions occurred in 1986, including at the Phyllis Kind Gallery which continued to show his work in New York. Yet the hope of a more expansive freedom must have been brighter by 1989, the year before Bulatov and his wife moved to New York where they resided for a year, prior to moving to Paris in 1991.