Christies steps into Russian market

Christie's International, the world's largest auction house, is planning to open its first office in Russia this autumn in the wake of its rival Sotheby's opening a branch in May. Art experts say the country's economic growth is driving the demand for art

Art can be an excellent way to make a living in Russia these days.

“Russian’s now have the financial means to buy art. Businessmen who do not have anything to do with art have started buying works. It has become interesting for them and even a bit fashionable,” explained Rinaldina Vlasova, owner of Shkola gallery.

The biggest sale so far reached $US 8 MLN. Some of the paintings exhibited at Moscow galleries, such as impressionist Shkola gallery, include Monets and Renoirs. That's increasingly what Russian art lovers want along with Russian and modern art.

As Russia's economy continues to grow, so does the number of its billionaires. But in addition to fancy cars, the country's richest are now craving art. And some of the world's largest auction houses are ready to give it to them.

Christie's International is planning to open an office in Moscow by the end of the year, although it is yet to decide on the location.

Christie's sales of Russian art increased sevenfold from 2000 to 2006. In the first half of 2007 alone, the auction house sold $US 69 MLN worth of Russian art worldwide.

But buyers abroad tend to be Russian expats, according to collector Andrey Yeremin. He says Russia's fast-paced growth has created a new generation of art collectors.

“The majority of old collectors are not wealthy people, and buying works at auctions is very expensive for them. For new collectors – businessmen – that's not a problem and recent auctions have shown this. Basically, there is no price that can now scare Russian buyers,” commented Andrey Eremin, art collector

But while replete with wealthy buyers, the Russian art market still has to win their trust. 

“Russians are still not used to buying such masterpieces of international importance in a gallery. This perhaps shocks a bit. Some people do not know enough. They hesitate or have doubts,” Added Rinaldina Vlasova.

Christies' Moscow branch will focus on recruiting new clients and arranging private sales but it will not hold auctions.