The second half of May proved to be the busiest of the year for the Moscow art market, as two major art fairs attracted dozens of galleries from around the world to the Russian capital.
From May 16 to 21, the Art Moskva contemporary art fair gathered 73 international and Russian galleries at the Central House of Artists. Sales totalled $4.5 million, compared to $3 million in 2006. Top Moscow galleries were present, such as Gary Tatintsian, XL, Marat Guelman, Aidan and Alexander Yakut. Prices on art works varied from $10,000 to $300,000.
"If we were to speak of changes in the Russian contemporary art world then we can say that our own stars have appeared, we have our own identity, and we have our rightful place in society," said gallery owner, Marat Guelman. "Art Moskva has become a true business. Many collectors fight here for works of art."
From May 28 to June 4, the Moscow World Fine Art Fair (MWFAF) exhibited more than $1 billion in art at the Manege Exhibition Hall next to the Kremlin. While results were lacklustre, many galleries hoped to make sales with Russian collectors once back at home.
The fourth MWFAF gathered 80 international and Russian art galleries exhibiting about 6,000 works ranging from Old Master paintings to Impressionist, modern and contemporary art. Contemporary jewellery was also on display.
"The Moscow Art Fair is a great opportunity for Russian collectors to see what's best in the art world without actually having to leave their own city," said Lisa Romanova, an art expert with Moscow gallery, Maricevic Fine Art
Maricevic sold one of its top works: Filip Malyavin's Portrait of an old woman, 1929, for $120,000; and Nude Dancers, 1912-1913, by Vladimir Baranov-Rossine for $1.15 million, which was sold from the collection of the gallery's Swiss partner, Artvera's Art Gallery.
"Dealers are coming to Moscow because there's a lot of money in this town, and there's a sizable number of collectors spending a lot on art," said Luba Mosionzhnik, co-owner of the Chowaiki Mosionzhnik Gallery from New York, which is making its third appearance at the MWFAF, and which specializes in 20th century modern art.
Mosionzhnik exhibited at the Fair through her Moscow gallery, The School, which opened in March in the city downtown. The School is the first western gallery to open in Moscow, and to offer Impressionist works. At the Fair, The School offered a 1901 blue period Pablo Picasso, "Buste de femme souriante" for $10 million; a Renoir pastel on paper, "L'enfant Jean Renoir, dans la chaise," circa 1895, for $1.5 million. Shkola said it sold some minor works, and that many collectors were interested in its top pieces, such as the Picasso, but none sold.
Among the other galleries which attended were Berko Fine Paintings with 19th and 20 th century paintings, Galerie Tamenaga with Impressionist masters, Michel-Guy Chadelaud with 19 th century furniture and fine art works, Georges DeJonckheere with Old Master paintings, Partridge Fine Art with European and English fine art, and Galerie Le Minotaure with Russian ?migr? art.
"As usual, many contacts are made during the Fair, and from experience we know that these contacts are given a concrete form after the Fair," said Patrick Berko, head of Berko Fine Paintings.
Partridge declined to comment on sales. Galerie Tamenaga said it sold "nothing." Galerie Le Minotaure said the Fair was "very successful" and that it "did many sales" but it would not provide details.
Guy Michel Chadelaud, also attending the MWFAF for a third time, said he "has discovered in Moscow a real and impressive enthusiasm" for 19 th century French furniture. He estimates that 50 percent of his global clientele is now Russian. Chadelaud said it had "good sales" and that it is "confident of the future in Russia."
Though many galleries were returning to the MWFAF for a second and third time, about half of last year's galleries didn't return, unable to crack the Russian market.
"A lot of people come here and underestimate the sophistication and education of Russian collectors," said Mosionzhnik. "Being able to establish relations and trust is very important, as well as understanding the Russian mentality."