PRINT Summer 1972

Russia’s Underground Art Market

YOU LEAVE YOUR HOTEL for a visit to the Kremlin armory. Ten steps down the sidewalk a young Muscovite picks you up.

“You like icons?” he asks in a ludicrous parody of the classic “feelthy pictures” ploy. Anything close to an affirmative grunt and you’re on your way to a grubby apartment. There you’ll see icons, mostly from the nineteenth century but some earlier. All expensive. Prices have soared in the past two years since I was last in Russia. Noticing your cool, and not knowing that you’ve practiced it in flea markets for a decade, your host changes the subject.

“Listen,” he says, “Maybe you like modern art instead . . . Malevich, Lissitzky?”

“Sure,” you reply.

“Well, I’ve got a friend. . . .” And you are off.

You have made contact with one of the Soviet Union’s newer and better organized industries. But only with its export branch. There’s also a big domestic trade. In fact, the

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