New artnet Report Examines Strengths and Weakness of Russian Art Market

It seems that Russian contemporary has some catching up to do.


A new report compiled by artnet Analytics for the Moscow Biennial shows that the auction market for Russian art is small relative to the global auction market—comprising less than 2.5 percent of the $16.1 billion global total for 2014.

However, there have been robust growth periods in the past decade that mirror broader economic trends.

For instance, the period between 2004 and 2008 was marked by significant growth in sales of Russian art at auctions worldwide. According to artnet’s Price Database, total Russian fine art auction sales were more than $600 million in both 2007 and 2008—a gain of 730 percent from 2003 totals.

A little over a decade ago, MacDougall’s, a London-based auctioneer specializing in Russian art, opened its doors. A year later, in 2005, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, MacDougall’s, and Bonhams all held designated Russian art sales for the first time.

March Chagall Le Jouer D'Accordéon (1970) sold for $802,000 (estimate: $600–800,000) at Sotheby's New York this past May. Image: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

March Chagall Le Jouer D’Accordéon (1970) sold for $802,000 (estimate: $600–800,000) at Sotheby’s New York this past May. Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Like the broader art market, sales of Russian art were impacted by the global recession, with totals dropping by over 58 percent between 2008 and 2009. But there have been signs of recovery in recent years, with sales rising back above $400 million in 2013.

According to the report, it is difficult to assess the scope and value of the primary market, but an increase in the number of galleries, art fairs, and institutions in the past two decades suggest it is growing and has certainly increased international recognition of Russian artists.

The most dominant names in Russian art measuring by auction sales are well-established art stars with illustrious careers, many of whom fall in the Impressionist and modern category. While steps have been taken to increase the exposure of Russia’s Contemporary artists, the auction market still remains focused on traditional Russian art along with works from the 18th through 20th-centuries,” according to the report.


Source: artnet Analytics

Looking at auction statistics from 1985–2015, the top-selling Russian artist is Marc Chagall, with total sales of $1.4 billion at auction. This is nearly twice the level of sales for the next highest selling artist on the list, Wassily Kandinsky, whose works have pulled in a total of $547 million at auction in the same 30-year time span.

Wassily Kandinsky Strandszene (1909) sold for $17.2 million at Christie's New York in May 2014 (estimate: $16–22 million).  Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Wassily Kandinsky Strandszene (1909) sold for $17.2 million at Christie’s New York in May 2014 (estimate: $16–22 million).
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

The period from 2005–2015—which measures only auctions devoted specifically to Russian art—shows a slightly different picture, of seascape painter Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky in the lead. More than $98 million of his work has been sold at auction in the last decade alone.

Other internationally recognized Russian artist names on the list for the past three decades of auction results include Chaïm Soutine, Alexej Jawlensky, Ivan Aivazovsky, Serge Poliakoff and Kazimir Malevich.

Sales of Contemporary Russian art are “nominal despite the boom in the global Post-War and Contemporary collecting category. In fact, Russian artists born after 1950 contribute less than 1.5 percent to the Russian fine art auction market by value,” according to the report.

Among the handful of living artists whose work has reached the auction block, are Ilya Kabakov, who has garnered more than $23 million at auction sales since the mid-1980s,  and Erik Bulatov, whose work has sold for more than $17 million in total at auction. London gallerists Simon and Michaela de Pury are opening a show of Bulatov’s work at their eponymous gallery next month (October 5).

Among top selling individual lots are Malevich’s Suprematist Composition (196), the most expensive work ever sold by a Russian artist. It brought more than $60 million at Sotheby’s in 2008, at the height of the art market.

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