RUSSIA Auction houses claim that today the auction market is better protected from a slump than in the early nineties. Then most buyers were American or Japanese and both countries were hit by the recession of the early nineties but today buyers are spread over more countries says the Economist. For example buyers who spent over US$500,000 on art at Sotheby’s auctions came from 36 countries but today they come from 58.
Americans struggling with the weakness of the dollar have become net sellers of art and while Asians – in particular new buyers from Russia. India, China and the Middle East – have taken up the slack.
Only last month, Roman Abramovich, a London-based billionaire, paid $86m for Francis Bacon’s “Triptych, 1976”, the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction, and $34m for Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping”, making Mr Freud the highest-selling living artist at auction.
Mr Abramovich has never been known as a major buyer but on Wednesday, June 4th, Mr Abramovich was seen touring Art Basel, a contemporary-art fair, accompanied by a new girlfriend, Daria Zhukova, who is transforming a disused bus garage designed by Konstantin Melnikov, a Constructivist architect, into the Centre for Contemporary Culture Moscow, due to open in September.
Mr Abramovich’s new art advisor, who accompanied the couple to Art Basel, is Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, a former director of the Gagosian gallery in London and Damien Hirst’s agent. But Mr Abramovich is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2004, Viktor Vekselberg, an oil and metals baron, unexpectedly paid more than $90m for the Forbes family collection of Fabergé imperial Easter eggs.
The contemporary Russian market, where prices can leap from a few thousand pounds to millions in a short space of time, is where the richest pickings are. The traditional market is already more mature.