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Last updated: April 21, 2012 12:23 am
Bad news for Russian contemporary art: three of Moscow’s leading art galleries are closing. Citing plummeting sales, Aidan, Marat Guelman and XL are shuttering at the end of this month. All three galleries have an international profile and exhibit in major art fairs outside Russia. But inside the country, says Marat Guelman, “The main clients of the gallery are leaving Russia. More and more rich people are affiliated with the state, or they are its representatives such as state bureaucrats. These people are careful to hide their income, and collecting contemporary art is not one of their priorities.”
Guelman will keep his Winzavod space as a non-commercial enterprise. As for XL, a stalwart of Frieze, Basel and Basel Miami Beach, it is also transitioning to a non-commercial format.
Aidan Salakhova, an artist in her own right, is also keeping her space in Winzavod but will turn it into a studio. She says her total profit for the gallery in 2011 was $60,000 and that, unlike elsewhere, the Russian art market never recovered from the 2008-09 financial crisis. She has had more success as an artist, having sold three pieces at the Venice Biennale last year; they went to a Russian collector for €200,000 and she has now been signed on by Dubai’s Cuadro gallery.
With names such as Roman Abramovich known as big art buyers, it may seem surprising that there is so little support for the domestic market, but he and other super-rich Russians have moved to buying international names.
One good outcome of the closures, says Salakhova, is that “Our decisions have acted like a wake-up call to the Russian authorities, they are asking what they can do to support us by, for example, paying for participation at art fairs. So maybe there will be change in the future.”
. . .
Last year saw a distinct drop in the value of Christie’s sales of Middle Eastern and Arab art in Dubai. Bonhams has pulled out of the emirate but Christie’s is soldiering on, and its 12th session, held this week, followed the new formula of a two-part session, with the second featuring more affordable material. Tucked into this were a number of works offered “without reserve” and quite a few decorated with the tiny triangle denoting works that actually belonged to Christie’s, generally because they had been guaranteed and failed to sell in previous sales. The pre-sale high estimate for the two sales was $6.1m before commission, and the final total was $6.4m, including commission: a solid result. But despite some good prices – the $602,500 made by Mahmoud Saïd’s “Vers le bain de Cléopatre” (1959) was double its estimate – this once hotly tipped market is slowly shrinking: last year’s equivalent session made $8m and in October 2011 Christie’s made $7.9m. But Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie’s Europe, defends the Dubai sales. “Look at Hong Kong, which started with tiny sales, and now look at its importance,” he says. “We are in the Gulf region for the long term.”
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In the Islamic sales next week in London, the increasing prominence of Turkish buyers has led Sotheby’s to redub this “Turkish and Islamic Week”. It starts with a single-owner collection of Ottoman art on Tuesday, with textiles (including a 17th-century velvet hanging, est £15,000-£18,000), metalwork, watercolours and gorgeous Iznik pottery. It concludes with a 90-lot sale of contemporary Turkish art on Thursday.
Bonhams and Christie’s combine Indian and Islamic art in their sales on Tuesday and Thursday, Bonhams featuring the library of Mughal scholar Linda York Leach (est £2,500-£3,500).
In the field of coins, auctioneer Morton & Eden is wondering if it can repeat last year’s performance, when it sold an early Islamic coin for £3.7m. The firm has another, earlier piece for sale on Monday: the only known example dating from AD707-08, year 89 in the Islamic calendar. It comes from a European collection and is estimated at £800,000-£1m. Will there be fireworks? Tom Eden is being cautious. “The Islamic art market is very volatile and unpredictable,” he says, although he admits he is “crossing his fingers”.
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Art London, the mid-market fair held in Chelsea at the same time as Frieze, has bitten the dust. The reasons given were local planning restrictions but in truth its quality had been declining for a number of years. “When a fair loses its good dealers, it also loses its good client base; and even though there were charity evenings and corporate events, these don’t necessarily bring sales,” says one former exhibitor. Add to this the increased competition in London from other events, notably the new mid-market fair to be held in Olympia next spring.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
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