Russia: Art club lets rich and famous sell drawings – anonymously

Fred Weir
Russian artist Lavrenti Bruni.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

MOSCOW – For Moscow’s cultural in crowd, the one-day art sale held at a storefront in the tony Patriarch’s Pond district is one of the year’s most talked-about events.

The tiny space is festooned with hundreds of drawings – in charcoal, oil, water color or ink – all of nudes done on paper in rapid “sets” of three to five minutes each.

The anonymous artists are mostly amateurs who belong to a sketching club established by one of Russia’s leading artists, Lavrenti Bruni, which meets weekly in his downtown Moscow studio. Mr. Bruni’s group of a dozen or so includes a famous Russian actress, a leading ballerina, a fashion photographer, an advertising executive, and others, mostly well-known celebrities.

All the drawings hanging in the impromptu gallery, including many done by Bruni himself, are priced at 500 rubles (around $17), but the twist is that they are all unsigned. Only after the customer has selected and purchased a drawing does the artist step forward and sign it.

“It’s great fun, we just do it for the process,” says Alyona Doletskaya, editor of the Russian edition of Vogue magazine, who originally came to Bruni’s studio to do a story about the club. “But Lavrenti sternly told me: ‘Alyona, sit down and draw something.’ I did, and now I’m hopelessly addicted to it,” says Ms. Doletskaya.

Judging by the crowd, which included businessmen, officials, and other Russian cultural figures, it’s an infectious concept. No one seems able to guess the actual authors of most drawings, which are all of a single subject but range wildly in style and technique.

Why only female nudes? “God made woman last,” says Bruni. “That means He was already experienced, so that was his best creation.”

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