Saturday, May 5, 2012

Russian Art Angst

Against the backdrop of the record-setting selling of the “The Scream,” a report from Russia had arguably equally significant implications for the market. Apparently, Russian citizens are leaving the country in response to the return of Vladimir Putin as President. The exodus has left gallery owners concerned over the future of contemporary Russian art.
Coincidentally, the imagery of angst of “The Scream” matches the apparent sentiment of gallery owners in Moscow. With wealthy patrons leaving the country, artists and galleries anticipate tough times while Vladimir Putin is in office. Reportedly, bureaucrats will replace the oligarchs as the wealthy class and not express the same interest in modern and contemporary art. The consequent threat to the security of contemporary art in Russia has implications for economic security.
Russian entrepreneurs who collected contemporary art reinvested their new wealth in local artists and as a result supported economic development. Namely, the galleries that represented the artists shared in the success and promoted the development of a local art market with initiatives such as the launch of the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art in 2003. Such events provided international exposure for Russian artists and developed the cultural credibility of the nation.
The sale of “The Scream” also illustrates a contrasting movement in emerging economies of China, India, and the GCC states. Entrepreneurs turned art collectors led to the dominance of China’s share of the international art market in 2011, and investment in contemporary art in India is thriving. The Royal Family of Qatar demonstrated the strategic importance of art with the acquisition of “The Card Players” by Cezanne for a record-setting $250 million private sale in 2011, and the Royal Family is also rumored to have acquired the “The Scream” for the record-setting $120 million at auction.
If a change in leadership does compromise the advancement of contemporary artists, Russia stands to lose the benefit of what is the emerging political economy of the art market. Also, emigration of wealthy arts patrons begs the question of where they are going and if they will invest in art when they get there.

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