No market is immune: Russia

Just three months ago the sky seemed the limit in Russia. The country’s art scene was booming, but despite the government’s constant downplaying of a crisis, today the word is on everyone’s lips. As one official at a top natural gas company that sponsors art projects said recently: “All companies are reconsidering all their plans and projects.”

Many sponsors have withdrawn quickly from the art field, and many people have lost jobs in the Moscow art scene, said Hans Knoll of Knoll Galerie Wien. Still, many wealthy Russians have built up sizeable financial reserves after almost a decade of rising prices for commodities. Collectors have scaled back purchases, as seen by the results of the Russian art auctions in London at the end of November. But many non-profit art projects are going forward.

“So far the crisis hasn’t had that much of an impact on us,” said Aslan Chekhoev, a businessman and collector who is opening a private museum of Russian post-war art in St Petersburg. The opening, however, has been moved to April instead of February. Mr Chekhoev said this is due to construction issues and not financial troubles.

Now that the initial shock of the crisis has worn off, some people see the situation as an opportunity. “The crisis will certainly lead to fewer contemporary art sales,” said Shalva Breus, a businessman, art collector and head of the Moscow-based Art Chronika Foundation. “Still, artists will continue to create, and perhaps they’ll think less about making money and more about making good art.”

“The crisis has influenced my plans to the extent that I am very sensitive to the context in which art is received,’’ said curator Maria Baibakova, who launched the non-profit Baibakov Art Projects last month, which is helping young Russian artists. “It’s at these times when values are being reconsidered that contemporary art can draw an even bigger audience.”

“When a forest is burning down, nature comes back very fast and much stronger,” said Volker Diehl, the German owner of Moscow’s Diehl Gallery. “This is the case because the art market gets cleaned out by over-rated and overpriced art as well as by not-so-serious collectors.”

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