The unique World Fine Art Fair, which ended in Moscow this week, was attended by 22 major galleries of the world that brought exquisite furniture, precious dishes, mind-boggingly expensive items, and hundreds of pictures.
Ordinary people were not allowed into the stately Dolgorukov Palace, because staff members were too busy catering for potential clients to take care of those who had no money to buy an ordinary Louis XIV redwood cabinet.
Only visitors holding VIP invitation cards, which had been issued to a substantial group (4,000) of the Russian elite, were allowed into the event. Dozens of black Mercedes stood at the entrance surrounded by bodyguards, while a gala dinner was given to the selected guests on the opening day.
One can understand the organisers of the show led by French art critic Patrick Hourcade - Russian millionaires are responsible for the sky-high prices on the world antiques market, especially for works by Russian artists. At the recent Russian session at Sotheby's in New York, a "Sill Life with Chair" (1911) by a moderately well known artist Vladimir Baranoff Rossine was sold for an astronomical $1,184,000, more than was offered for Aivazovsky's masterpiece "Rescuing from the Shipwreck." Konstantin Somov's gouache on paper (starting price $40,000) went for $220,000.
Several years ago, nobody held special Russian art sessions. But the surging demand has made Russian art one of the most profitable investments on the world antiques market.
This is why 22 major antiques dealers, including the Marlborough Fine Art of London and Segoura Antiquaires of Paris, decided to come to Moscow, a city of crazy money and passionate buyers. The conditions offered to the bidders by artist Zurab Tsereteli, president of the Russian Academy of Arts, were unique: the palace was at their disposal without any rent payments.
The creator of Moscow monuments acted wisely, because no auctions will be held in Moscow at all: this week, the treasures will be packed and returned abroad. Swiss antiques dealer Yves Bouvier, who suggested holding the fair in Moscow, said the exhibits had been brought to Moscow for a temporary exposition and would not be sold in the city. The willing millionaires will be able to acquire them in the galleries of New York, Paris or London.
This is a highly unusual condition for the established practice of antiques auctions. It is impossible to believe that no deals, even verbal ones, or preliminary bids were made in Moscow. Besides, there were quite a few truly extraordinary (albeit few Russian) things on display in the Dolgorukov Palace. It was like an enormous shop with large amounts of furniture, vases, silver dishes, avant-garde sculpture, Impressionist paintings, works by American artists, bronze, marble and other exquisite items. There were a few pictures by Peter Breughel Jr., Renoir, Marc Chagall, Picasso, Sebastian Ricci, Giuseppe di Rib, and even a masterpiece by Francis Bacon, the extraordinary 20th century British painter. In all, there were over 1,000 exhibits dating from the 13th to the 20th century.
Some entries were brought specially for potential Russian buyers: a copy of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" in shagreen, which once belonged to the famous writer himself, or a folding screen that once stood in the bedroom of Carl Lagerfeld, or (specially for financiers) the furniture of the Rothschilds.
The sensation of the fair was Picasso's "Portrait of Olga in the Armchair." First, Olga Koklova, one of Picasso's models and wives, was Russian, and second, Picasso's "Boy with a Pipe" was sold barely a month ago at Sotheby's for an incredible $104,168,000, becoming the most expensive picture sold in the world. The previous record-holder (for ten years) was Van Gogh's "Portrait of Doctor Gachet."
By showing Picasso's portrait in Moscow, the organisers of the fair hoped to set newrecords, since Russians are called "a nation of collectors."