Scott Reyburn tries to make sense of London’s Russian Art Week which took place against a backdrop of increasing tension of Ukraine and collapsing oil prices both of which have a huge impact on the fortunes of Russian buyers. At its peak, the November week of Russian art sales was nearly £100m and filled four different auction houses. But this past week, sell-through rates nearing 50% from the low side were a sign of market dominance. Reyburn spoke to dealers to get an explanation:
“It was a reflection of what’s going on in Russia,” said the London-based specialist dealer James Butterwick. “A lot of the usual Russian-based dealers weren’t in London. Collectors are distracted.”
Nonetheless, Christie’s saw its sale total rise on lower sell-through rate because of the success of Valentin Serov’s portrait of Maria Zetlin which sold to Viatcheslav Kantor for £9.3m:
“For the top Russian pieces, people will pay crazy prices,” said the underbidder, Alex Lachmann, a dealer based in Cologne, Germany. “Trade for the middle market is rubbish now.”
Aside from the crisis facing Russia’s domestic economy, the big buyers have relocated to London and are branching out into other categories:
Russia’s wealthy collectors are now concentrating more on big-ticket Old Masters, Impressionist and Modern and contemporary art. […] [A]ccording to recent rough estimates, [London] is home to a shifting population of 150,000 to 400,000 Russians? On Nov. 25, the London real estate broker Knight Frank said that 21 percent of the properties it had sold for more than £10 million in the past six months had been bought by Russians. During the previous six months Russians had bought 13 percent.
“The auction houses will probably have to drop the idea of evening sales and just take in fewer lots,” said Mr. Butterwick, the London dealer. “There might be fewer buyers based in Russia, but there are plenty living here.”
At Auctions, Russian Oligarchs Start to Hedge Their Bets (NYTimes.com)