March 1, 2013 7:28 pm

The Art Market: from Russia with interest

Sotheby’s showcases Central Asian art while Art Nouveau tops expectations
Portrait of Dimitri Shostakovich (1987) by Tair Salakhov

Portrait of Dimitri Shostakovich (1987) by Tair Salakhov

Constantly on the lookout for new markets, Sotheby’s London is holding a selling show of contemporary art from Central Asia and the Caucasus next week, with 47 works from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Some of these countries have huge oil revenues; others benefit from their geographical position, all are keen to become better known in the art world. Georgia’s richest man, mining billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, for example, snagged Picasso’s “Dora Maar au Chat” (1941) for $95.2m at Sotheby’s in 2006.

“We want to encourage people from the region to come into Sotheby’s and show them what else we sell, not only art but, for example, jewellery,” says Sotheby’s Mark Poltimore. The exhibition, from March 4-12, is mainly of paintings (priced from $5,000-$50,000), sourced from galleries, collectors and from the artists themselves, some of whom have been grumbling at having to pay their own shipping costs. Works on offer include a portrait of Shostakovich by the Azeri Tair Salakhov and a haunting photograph of the Tian Shan mountains by the Kyrgyz Alimjan Jorobaev.

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St Petersburg Gallery is a new art space just opened in Cork Street in London, which will be specialising – you guessed it – in Russian art. Showing work mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries, it is supported by the collector and dealer Vladimir Tsarenkov, who has prime holdings of Russian avant-garde art. The space is run by Victoria Viorstava, previously with Sotheby’s Russian department in London. “We are based in London because it is one of the biggest markets in the world, and of course there is a huge Russian community here,” she says. Works on offer range from a costume design by Goncharova (£90,000) to Nesterov’s “Springtime” (1923) at £2.2m; the current show also features works by Marc Chagall.

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Americans have an abiding love for Tiffany, and so do a number of Japanese collectors, along with Art Nouveau – prized pieces are even used in tea ceremonies. One aficionado is Takeo Horiuchi, the Japanese founder of the Louis C. Tiffany Garden Museum Collection in Nagoya. He built up his holdings for more than 20 years and founded his museum in 1994, but was concerned for the safety of the fragile glass and ceramics after the tsunami in 2011. Last year he went to the little-known Californian auctioneer Allen Michaan, in Alameda, near San Francisco, who found a group of private investors to buy 618 works outright. The undisclosed sum was, Michaan says, the “largest single transaction to ever occur in the field of decorative arts”. The auctioneer held an initial sale of 140 Tiffany Studio works in Alameda in November, raising $4m – the firm’s highest ever sale total. Top lot was a tea screen, decorated with a parakeet and goldfish bowl, which made $324,500.

A Lalique butterfly brooch

A Lalique butterfly brooch (c1895) netted €300,750 at Sotheby’s Paris

Similar success crowned Sotheby’s auction in Paris this month of 134 pieces of Art Nouveau, which Michaan had sent for sale to the firm. Three Gallé works were sold before the auction to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims, and the Musée d’Orsay pre-empted a pair of lamps by Georges Hoentschel on the low estimate, at €120,750. The ravishing top lot, the spider-like René Lalique bronze “Femme Ailée”, part of the Lalique stand at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, zipped past its €300,000 low estimate to make €1.2m. And a Lalique butterfly brooch fluttered over its €60,000-€80,000 estimate to make €300,750. The sale totalled €7m, including the three pieces pre-sold, nicely over its €5m high estimate (pre-sale estimates don’t include premium; results do).

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Next week it’s curtains up for two major art fairs in New York. The ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America) Art Show opens to the public on Wednesday at the Park Avenue Armory, with 72 dealers, and the following day sees the sprawling Armory Show with 211 galleries spread across two piers. This is a crucial year for the Armory: it has been put up for sale, along with two other fairs, by its owner Merchandise Mart Properties, and is also facing the challenge of the newcomer Frieze New York, which successfully debuted last year.

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Investment in internet art sites continues: Artsy, which has partnered with the Armory Show and is already showing selected works from the fair, has garnered $5.6m from the internet entrepreneur and Scientologist Sky Dayton, founder of WiFi services company Boingo. And another online company, Artspace, has raised $8.5m from investors including Canaan Partners, as well as bringing in the well-heeled Russian collector Maria Baibakova as strategic director.

Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper

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