NEW YORK — “Art is an envoy of peace. Art is a way for cultures and people to communicate.”

That’s what Mikhail Gorbachev, sounding more like a philosopher king than the former president of the Soviet Union, had to say when he visited a Mercer Street art gallery Monday afternoon.

Fresh from a tour of ground zero and en route to a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg at City Hall, Gorbachev stopped by the Grant gallery to preview the Russian and Russian-American art that will be auctioned today to benefit the World Trade Center victims’ families. A wall-length painting of the New York skyline covered with images of faces was among the items he eyed — and after he signed it himself, some of the six artists who had worked on the project acknowledged the work’s immediate appreciation in value. “Our collaboration with Gorbachev,” laughed Elena Sarni.

But Gorbachev didn’t back down from talking politics. In addition to being six months to the day after the World Trade Center attacks, March 11 marks the anniversary of Gorbachev’s election to the post of General Secretary of the Central Communist Parties of the Soviet Union. He said he hoped President Bush would be open to discussing human values and maintaining the non-enemy spirit that Gorbachev and the elder Bush helped establish more than a decade ago — a sentiment he said he shared with Bill Clinton Sunday night over dinner at the Russian Embassy.

Monday afternoon wasn’t all art and politics, though. Like so many party-favor collectors at New York events, Gorbachev revealed that he isn’t above the art of regifting. When presented with a boxed bottle of Kremly Vodka, he told the company’s director of advertising: “This will be a great present for Mayor Bloomberg.”

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