Russian art drawing interest despite rocky economics

Fri Apr 16, 2010 10:21am EDT
 
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - With hopes for recovery in fine art prices running high, attention is trained on second-tier markets such as Russian collecting for signs of renewal.

Sotheby's conducts the season's first Russian art sales next week, led by a pair of important collections including one of 86 works by Ukrainian avant-garde artists being sold as a single lot.

The auctions come on the heels of strong Asia Week sales at both Sotheby's and rival Christie's in New York, and last month's Hong Kong results, where salesrooms were filled to capacity, estimates were exceeded and records fell.

"This market has been booming for quite some time" and is seeing a renewed confidence, said Sonya Bekkerman, Sotheby's director of Russian paintings.

The financial crisis that struck in 2008 made collectors "more selective, but they're buying consistently," she added.

The relatively recent phenomenon of Russian collecting has drawn widespread attention, as oligarchs emboldened with seemingly limitless cash snapped up top works at auction at often astounding prices.

Bidders gasped in 2006 as an anonymous bidder paid more than $95 million for Picasso's "Dora Maar with Cat."

The mystery man, unknown to even auction regulars, had not even secured a seat at Sotheby's and conducted his audacious bidding from the standing area at the rear. Reports, unconfirmed by Sotheby's, have since focused on a Russian mining magnate as the buyer.   Continued...