London galleries bank on rush for Russian art

Mon Feb 1, 2010 9:18am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - London's auction houses have long been attuned to billionaire tycoons from the former Soviet bloc snapping up art and spurring a boom in prices, at least until the credit crunch struck.

Recent moves into Russian art by galleries in the city are more permanent and public, however, with two major exhibitions planned over the spring and a new gallery dedicated to modern and contemporary Russian works opening soon after. At least part of the point is to tap wealthy Russians who have taken up residence in Britain and may want to acquire a piece of their heritage. There is already a specialist Russian art auction house, MacDougall's, catering to that clientele.

But, say those behind the Aktis gallery, it is not only about the money.

"We see it partly as an educational place for Russians who previously couldn't see the work of artists living abroad," said Anna Chalova, managing director of the new showroom which opens in the upmarket St. James area of central London this spring.

Aktis will concentrate on 20th century Russian artists who lived and worked abroad, and the owners already have a collection of paintings ready to go on sale.

Chalova said funding came from a range of private sources, but that there was no dominant backer.

"It was very important for us as Russians living abroad," she added in an interview. "We believe that through studying the history of our own art we can understand our own world better and maybe that will be important to other Russians."

"DEGENERATE ART"   Continued...