Top-of-Line Art Fair Draws Eager Buyers

Moscow is capturing the imagination of art dealers around the world, as booming oil and metals prices give Russia's newly rich cash to lavish on the arts.

While London and New York are the usual venues for sales to Russian collectors, dealers have the chance to show their wares between Sept. 20 and 26 at the Moscow World Fine Art Fair. About 55 dealers, more than twice as many as last year, are taking part in the fair, to be held in the restored Manezh Central Exhibition Hall next to the Kremlin.

The fair encompasses art from the 16th to 20th centuries. As well as Russian art, there will be European furniture, Old Master paintings, sculpture, impressionist and modern masters, drawings, tapestries, carpets, Asian art and porcelain.

"The big difference from last year is that the exhibits will be for sale," said Sixtine Crutchfield, the Fair's general manager, adding that Moscow is "booming in every way."

Oleg Stetsyura, president of the leading Moscow art and antiques auction house Gelos, puts the value of Moscow's art and antiques market at between $800 million and $1.5 billion annually, and says it is growing rapidly.

European galleries will be represented in force at the fair. From London, Marlborough Fine Art, Feigen-Aaron, David Morris and Marks are attending; from Paris, Maurice Segoura, Bernard Steinitz and Galerie Boccara will take part. More than a dozen jewelers are also attending, including Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari and Zadora Joailliers.

The largest stand at the Fair will be Aurora Fine Art Investments, Russia's first art investment fund. It is owned by Swiss-based Thornton Fine Art Investment Fund, whose three owners are oil-and-metals billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, Moscow businessman Vladimir Voronchenko, and Andre Ruzhnikov, a Russian-born U.S. art adviser to Vekselberg.

Vekselberg is currently the biggest spender on the Russian art market. His Aurora fund will display for the first time in Russia over 100 Faberge works that are part of the collection he purchased from U.S. media magnate Malcolm Forbes in early 2004 for over $100 million. Among the Faberge works will be cigarette cases, cane handles, desk pieces, clocks and jewelry. These works will not be for sale.

Ruzhnikov, Aurora's director, said other Russian art will be on sale, such as 19th- and 20th-century painting, imperial porcelain vases and silver works. Among those will be a 30-piece, silver-gilded tea and coffee set once owned by the son of Tsar Nicholas I, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich. Aurora paid $1.6 million for it at Sotheby's in New York in May. Ruzhnikov did not disclose the Moscow asking-price.

"The Sazikov set is the most splendid Russian set of its kind in the world," Ruzhnikov said, with the pitch of a salesman hoping to recoup his investment. "There's nothing like it in the Kremlin Museum or the Hermitage."

Other international galleries attending the fair are bringing items with a Russian origin or connection. Marks will offer a Carl Bojanowski wine cistern. Feigen-Aaron will offer the 1918 oil painting by Russian-born painter Chaim Soutine, "Paysage du Midi."

A number of U.S. dealers and galleries are coming for the first time, including Ariadne Galleries in Manhattan, which will exhibit a fourth-century Greek Alabastron with lid ($1.8 million) and a fourth-century Scythian gold mask from the north shore of the Black Sea, for which no price was given.

"Not only do I want to sell works of art, but I also want to concentrate on providing new Russian buyers with art that has more geographic and cultural relevance to them," said Torkom Demirjian of Ariadne. "I hope that my participation in the Moscow fair will create a long working relationship with Russia's collectors, rather than just deals."