Art Moscow Opens, Hopes Crisis Over

The country’s biggest contemporary art fair opened Wednesday, trying to lure billionaire collectors after a year in which they reduced purchases as their wealth declined.

Art Moscow, showing works from 40 Russian and international galleries, was postponed from May by its organizer, Expo Park Exhibition Projects Ltd., to coincide with the state-run Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.

“Art Moscow is the most important commercial contemporary event in Russia and will tell us a lot about the art market,” said Marina Goncharenko, director of GMG Gallery in Moscow.

“There are only a handful of collectors able to buy very expensive works. Otherwise, the market is mostly about a small group willing to pay between 5,000 euros [$7,395] and 20,000 euros.”

The Russian economy contracted by about 10 percent in the first half of 2009 as prices fell for natural resources, such as oil, on which Russia is heavily dependent.

Three auction houses in London sold 29.1 million pounds ($48 million) of Russian art in their June sales, half the total of last year, as art prices also plummeted.

Moscow millionaire Igor Markin, a leading contemporary Russian collector and owner of the museum, said in an interview that he “hasn’t bought anything in a long time.” In spring, he even sold four artworks for half their value before the crisis began, he said.

More than half of the galleries at Art Moscow are Russian, and 17 are foreign, including the Volker Diehl Gallery of Berlin and the Knoll Gallery of Vienna.

At Art Moscow, GMG Gallery offers Viktor Skersis’s “I’m in Total Oblivion” (2008), an oil-on-canvas triptych, two canvases of which feature faceless peasants playing folk instruments. The third canvas, in the center, bears the words, “I’m in total oblivion.” All three canvases sell for 70,000 euros.

While the Russian government forecasts some economic growth in 2010, it said that it may be another three years before the economy returns to 2008 levels.

That means the slump in the art market could last until then, dealers said.

“Russia’s contemporary art market was never big to begin with, and so this slowdown makes it more difficult,” said Volker Diehl, a German gallerist with spaces in Berlin and Moscow. “Russians show more interest in reasonably priced art by Russian artists instead of international ones.”

The Art Moscow Diehl Gallery offers the 2.8-meter-by-1.8-meter painting, “Military Training” (2008) by Chinese artist Zhang Huang, for $280,000.

The gallery also offers two early works of flowers by German photographer Thomas Florshuetz. Each sells for 14,000 euros.

The 13th International Art Moscow Fair runs Sept. 23 to 27. Central House of Artists, 10 Ulitsa

Val. Tel. 238-0946,