Russian Art is Latest Casualty of Oil Prices
Art And Culture

Russian Art is Latest Casualty of Oil Prices

Plunging oil sent jitters through markets for high-yield bonds and energy stocks. Another casualty: Russian art.
The latest Russian art sales at four London auction houses tallied $25.9 million earlier this month, the lowest in records dating to 2007 and a 58% drop from a year ago, according to RussianArtandCulture.com.
Christie’s is ending standalone sales of Russian art in New York, the company said, and Mark Moehrke is leaving as head of its Russian works of art department, Bloomberg reported.
“The market has shrunk, I am afraid,” said William MacDougall, whose London-based MacDougall’s specializes in Russian art. “Russian collectors are not buying as much as they were a year or two ago.”
 The Russian economy has been battered by a slump of more than 60% in the price of oil since the summer of 2014, as well as international sanctions following the country’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine. That’s chipped away at the wealth of the millionaires and billionaires who are among the biggest buyers of Russian art.
While that segment is a niche, a retreat by Russian buyers could also hurt sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary auctions, and indicate a softening in the broader art market.
“Great things are still finding buyers, but the situation in Russia is frozen,” said Sonya Bekkerman, former head of Sotheby’s Russian painting department in New York, who left in 2013. “People are concerned about their businesses and the economy.”
“I had one rather wealthy Russian client in recently and he said, ‘I feel poor because of the sanctions,”’ said Peter Schaffer, co-owner of A La Vieille Russie, an antique store on Fifth Avenue. “A lot of it is a mental state, not a physical state. This particular gentleman could buy most of Manhattan.”
Russian auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York were once blockbuster events that drew the super rich from Moscow. Christie’s first offered Russian art as a standalone category in New York in 2006, the year Moehrke joined the company, tallying $9.2 million. The next year, results more than doubled to $19.3 million.
After New York sales declined, Christie’s moved its Russian painting auctions to London in 2012. In May, the company combined Russian decorative art with silver and small objects made of precious materials.
After a strategic review of its Russian artworks department, Christie’s decided to “consolidate its specialist expertise in London, where market activity for this category is currently most active,” the company said in an e-mail statement.


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