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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sotheby's Plans Are Still a Blank Canvas

MTRuprecht, back, embracing Kamensky at Sotheby's Moscow office, which was officially inaugurated Wednesday.
Sotheby's began a modest foray into Russia's flourishing art market with the opening of its Moscow office on Wednesday.

But the auction house tamped down expectations that it would be organizing art sales in Russia anytime soon.

"We do not have a formula for Moscow," Sotheby's CEO William Ruprecht said. "Our presence here is to underline the importance of our Russian clients in Sotheby's scheme of things."

Ruprecht suggested the office would remain essentially symbolic in the near future, adding that it is an acknowledgement of the company's commitment to its various Russian clients.

"In 2001, Russian arts collectors bought $9 million worth of artworks from Sotheby's. "The figure was up 15-fold, capping at $150 million in 2006," said Lord Poltimore, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Europe.

Ruprecht said Sotheby's Russian presence would also "serve as a catalyst and an accelerator in its pivotal push into CIS markets."

Mikhail Kamensky, managing director of Sotheby's Russia, said that with "the opening of new office, the company will be able to enrich Russian cultural life by bringing world art to Russian hands."

Leonid Shishkin, who owns a Moscow gallery that sells Soviet-era art, said that Sotheby's low-key debut here could be related to the difficulties of importing and exporting artworks.

But Poltimore dismissed the suggestion that legal or political considerations could hinder the company's operations in Russia.

"We are not exporting anything. Actually, we are currently doing more for the market through imports into this country," Poltimore said. "We hope we are not treading on any toes -- we are not in sales. We are a service industry and we felt that our presence here would ratchet up everybody in the business."

"If the time is right we will consider conducting an auction here -- as long as ... we are allowed to do it," Poltimore said.