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The Arts

Buy Now While Stocks Last

By Exhibitionist

Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, Portrait of the Artist as Elizabeth I; Digital Photograph

Two billionaires, ten millionaires, fifty select guests; if you wanted any proof of the fact that the market for Russian contemporary art is a better bet than Moscow real estate, you only had to see the feeding frenzy that took place at the one-night-only exhibition held at the country dacha owned by the businessman Alexander Rusakov, and organised by the Black List Gallery, headed up by the artist and art entrepreneur Nikolai Leontiev.

The phrase feeding frenzy does not refer to the feeding habits of the starving artists exhibiting their work, but rather to the rush of the well-heeled guests to buy the paintings and photographs on the walls, and the sculptures on the floor. In this market, it is the artists who have the upper hand. The days when Russian artists would be grateful if a buyer came knocking on their studio door are long gone. We are not yet at the point reached decades ago in New York and London, where the artist is king (or queen), but we are getting there. Here is the list of the future kings and queens of the Russian art market showing their work in the exhibition: Andrei Bartenev, Igor Baskakov, Natalia Bragina, Alexei Firsov, Serge Golovach, Matsumaro Han, Nikolai Leontiev, Vlad Monro, Stella Shalumova.

But, if you think that you might not be able to compete with the oligarchs flashing their wallets, think again, because, in comparison with the prices now being achieved for contemporary art outside of Russia, in Moscow we still have a way to go before we reach the million-dollar prices of Damien Hirst and the like. What is more, and this is a real paradox, you can buy the work of these Moscow artists at one price, and sell in London at a much higher figure.

A work by Mamyshev-Monroe, for example, was sold for six thousand pounds at Art Frieze in London this year; a similar work to his Elizabeth I (shown above), was for sale at the Black List exhibition for six thousand dollars. Without exception, you could have bought any work shown at this exhibition, for less than the prices these artists are commanding in the wider art market.

The press release makes the connection between the country house exhibition presented by Black List, and the old Russian tradition of artists, living and presenting their work at the country estates of the Moscow merchants. Abramtsevo, Polenovo and Kuskovo are estates forever linked with the emergence of a distinctive Russian art. Nineteenth-century tycoons like Savva Mamontov, and the collectors, Shchukin, Morozov and Ryabushinsky, can be said to have created the market for the artists they were supporting. The same is now happening today in twenty-first century Moscow. It was noticeable how particular artists at the Black List exhibition were favoured by particular millionaires and billionaires.

Andrei Bartenev, two bears

What of the art itself? Putting aside the investment value, is it worth buying as art? Yes, is the answer. the art on show at the Black List event showed just how alive and imaginative the Moscow art scene is at the moment. The variety of art is evidence of this; the pop art of Baskakov, the abstracts of Shalumova, the whimsy of Bartenev. Perhaps the quality of the art has as much to do with the fact that these are talented artists, as for the fact that they are artists first, and PR managers second. By this I mean that they are making art for themselves, and not for the market. How long this innocence will last nobody can say, but if you are thinking that Moscow real estate is looking a little over-priced, you might think about putting a few investment roubles into an art collection. Buy now while stocks last.

Black List Gallery: Tel.: 8 903 193-1936

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