As Russian Art Week starts in London from Monday, the question everyone is asking is: will the auctions be affected by the stand-off between Russia and Ukraine, coupled with the sanctions imposed by the US Treasury on a clutch of billionaires?
Russian assets have been draining away massively this year: according to the country’s central bank, some $64bn left the country in the first three months – about the total for all of 2013. So is this good news or bad news for the art market?
“Everyone was very concerned before last weekend, but we are hoping that now that Ukraine has a legitimate government, confidence will return,” says auctioneer William MacDougall, whose sprawling 463-lot sale of Russian art on Wednesday will be led by Robert Falk’s “Boy with a Cap Sitting on a Chair” (1910-11), estimated at up to £1.2m.
MacDougall hopes that with all the Russian money in the west – and Russians splurging on property in London – some will go into art. “After all,” he notes, “a picture would have been a better investment than a bank account in Cyprus!” Ukraine represents some 20 per cent of his business, he says: “A major buyer from Ukraine had been slow in paying, but now everything is settled.” And he adds that none of the sanctioned Russians or banks are big art collectors.
James Butterwick, a London dealer specialising in Russian art, says he is hearing “conflicting reports”. “The political situation could have an impact either way, but it could be positive. A lot of Russian money is invested in the UK. However, I have recently noticed Russians making very brutal offers for works of art – far more so than before – so there are obviously constraints on spending.”
Christie’s and Sotheby’s kick off the week’s sales, with the former offering paintings and works of art in two sessions on Monday, and including six mountain views by Nicholas Roerich, as well as his tempera and pastel depiction of clouds “The Heavenly Battle” (1909, est £500,000-£700,000).
The same day, Sotheby’s fields a select 37-lot evening sale led by Alexander Deyneka’s “Young Designer” (1966, est £2m-£3m). This is one of 22 lots consigned to Sotheby’s by the Russian Union of Artists – the first time it has sold some of its rich holdings at auction. But the big buzz is about the first 11 lots, from a private German collection, of Russian avant-garde art. This is a field so infested with fakes that auctioneers can be wary – but this group has rock-solid provenance, led by Varvara Stepanova’s “Figure with Guitar” (1919).
As for the political climate: “I don’t think there is much correlation between the macro-political situation and the results of auctions,” says Frances Asquith, head of Russian paintings at Sotheby’s. “But we might only know if sanctions have had an effect after the sale, for example if we see a lot of new buyers.”
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Christie’s recently announced the appointment of Aline Sylla-Walbaum as international managing director, luxury. She will work in partnership with François Curiel, chairman for the Asia-Pacific region and now also president of the luxury group.
Intrigued by this apparent shift of the art business, I asked Curiel about it. He said Christie’s had now been organised into nine “clusters”. Among them are “world art” (Islamic, tribal, antiquities); impressionist and modern art; and 20th and 21st century (which includes photographs and prints, haute couture, pop culture, posters and “iconic collections” – whatever those are). Each has a managing director and a head of group, looking after finance, development and so on, and working with the specialists within the cluster.
“It’s to simplify the reporting lines,” said Curiel. As for the “luxury” category, that includes jewellery, watches and wine: the art business is increasingly resembling the luxury goods industry, at the top end at least. And with publications such as Bloomberg and The Daily Telegraph already classifying their art market coverage within the category “luxury”, there may well be more overlapping to come.
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Koller, Switzerland’s biggest auction house, is showing highlights from its upcoming sales week (Zurich from June 23) in London today. The auctioneer has a very large clientele in the UK capital “of both British and international buyers”, according to local representative Geraldine Ramphal, who emphasises the advantages to a Swiss company of hold the viewing in London. “It works both ways: we find buyers but also consignors as the result of these previews . . . and there are no artists’ resale rights if someone sells in Switzerland, and value added tax is lower,” she says. The highlights – from the Swiss, impressionist and modern and contemporary sales are on view in Coll & Cortés Gallery in Albemarle Street until 3pm today, and include Kandinsky’s 1905 gouache “Ruin”, est SFr300,000-SFr350,000 (£200,000-£233,000).
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Meanwhile in New York, Old Master paintings are coming under the hammer. Christie’s has been bolstering its traditionally low-key mid-season sale and offers 112 lots on Wednesday. Its cover lot is “Woman Feeding a Parrot” (1666) by the Dutch Golden Age painter Caspar Netscher.
The piece has a fascinating history, having been in many museums before finally being restituted to the heirs of the original owners, Hugo and Elisabeth Andriesse. Once the property of the Elector Palatine, the painting was in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek and then Brussels’ Beaux Arts museum, from which it was confiscated, finally making its way into Hermann Goering’s collection. After 1950 it was again on the move, ending up as one of the highlights of the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, Germany.
Now it hits the auction circuit with an estimate of $2m-$3m, with all proceeds from the sale going to medical charities. The sale also includes 11 works restituted to the heirs the Dutch collector Hans Ludwig Larsen: “There are still many works of art to come from restitutions,” says Nicholas Hall, Christie’s head of Old Masters.
Georgina Adam is art market editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
Architecture and design calendar
London Architecture Festival
Various venues in London will host events, talks and exhibitions focusing on the city as a “capital of architecture”. Walking tours, film screenings and workshops are programmed to attract seasoned architecture enthusiasts as well as families and young people. Highlights include Thomas Heatherwick and Dan Pearson in conversation on the proposed Garden Bridge Project (Siobhan Davies Studio). Will Self, a leading voice on London’s urban character, will give a talk at Kings Place on June 9.
London Design Festival
The annual design festival brings together architects and designers to host more than 300 talks and events. This year the V&A’s John Madejski Garden will be transformed into “The Drone Aviary” – an interactive installation where semi-autonomous drones will perform an aerial dance.
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Paris Design Week
Paris Design Week runs alongside the annual international trade fair Maison&Objet. This commercial and cultural event gathers together many of the city’s major players – from designers, galleries and cultural institutions to restaurants and hotels. The annual design competition is now open, offering a €5,000 prize to a young designer or collective with the most original proposal.
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Vienna Design Week
September 16-October 5
Vienna is ideally located to host designers from central and eastern Europe. A highlight of this year is a series of photographs by Katarina Soskic entitled Let the Dogs Out! inspired by the dogs living on Vienna’s Palais Schwarzenberg.
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Helsinki Design Week
Showcasing architecture, design and fashion, Helsinki Design Week is the largest multidisciplinary festival in Scandinavia. Celebrating its 10th edition, the theme this year is “Take the Leap” and, in addition to the design week events, there is a children’s weekend as well as open studios around Helsinki.
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Design Miami/Basel is the European edition (set in Basel, Swizerland) for this international design fair. Exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century furniture, lighting and objets d’art will fill the south hall of Messe Basel. This year an additional “Design At Large” program has been added to the fair: curated by Dennis Freedman, it will feature large-scale pieces and installations outside the traditional boundaries of the fair’s exhibition spaces. Highlights from the fair include futuristic pottery by Takuro Kuwata (shown by Pierre Marie Giraud) and Reinier Bosch’s “Hurricane” sculpture (shown by Exchange East and West: Pearl Lam).
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NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial
July 1-October 12
In praise of New York’s “skilled makers”, the MAD Biennial, opening next month, will showcase work from 100 artists, artisans and designers. From milliners to media artists, set designers to stone masons, the Museum of Arts and Design will feature a great variety of work. Visitors should look out for the 21st-century take on the stained-glass tradition in Joseph Cavalieri’s window depicting Jackie Onassis.
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São Paulo Design Week
This festival is a celebration of Latin American design. Held in São Paulo, the fair features hundreds of independent events from trade fairs and exhibitions to cocktail parties. Every year the city is transformed into a cultural hub of creative economy, drawing in designers and visitors from neighbouring countries.
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Indesign: The Event – previously named Saturday in Design – is a fair that takes place in leading cities across the Asia-Pacific region (previously held in Sydney, Brisbane, Hong Kong and Singapore). Over a single weekend, Melbourne Indesign includes installations, seminars, emerging designer showcases and workshops.
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Istanbul Design Week
November 21-Dec 1
Istanbul’s annual design fair showcases urban, luxury, textile, creative and fashion design.