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“Dear investors, you should invest in Art”, William MacDougall

Nov 2, 2012 18:21 Moscow Time
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Since the collapse of the USSR, Russia presents a growing and flourishing modern and contemporary art market. A new exhibition, an auction house specializing exclusively in Russian art, is being held in Moscow November 2-4 at Zubov House. Voice of Russia discussed the perspectives that Russian art offers to investors with William MacDougall, Director of MacDougall Auctions.

The Voice of Russia (VoR): Could you present your auction house?

William MacDougall: We’ve always specialized in Russian art. We’re an English company based in London, which is the center for the Russian art market at auction.

We were founded in 2004. My wife and I were art collectors before, collecting Russian art. I’m a quarter Russian and my wife is Russian from Moscow. We used to work in the city of London in finance and when we had a bit of money, we collected Russian art, gained experience as buyers and sellers at auctions. And on the back of that experience we founded the auction house.

In the eight years, since we are founded, we’ve become one of the top three in the world, with Sotheby’s and Christie’s. So we’re an auction company which is based in London. We hold auctions in London. But as we only have Russian art, we regularly come to Moscow. And we were the first Western auction house to have a representative in Moscow. We regularly had exhibitions in Moscow, I think every year since 2006. Now, we have an exhibition in Moscow from the 2nd to the 4th of November at Zubov House (9 Alexander Solzhenitsyn Street). It is mostly Russian classic art of the twenty top lots of the auction.

VoR: You’ve said that London was the center for the Russian art market in the world?

William MacDougall: Yes, London is the center for art at auctions, the same way as it is the center for banking and insurance. Two thirds of the Russian art in the world that is sold at auctions is sold in London. It is much bigger than Moscow or Kiev for Russian art at auctions. That is not a specificity of Russian art. That is also true with French art. If you have an expensive French painting, you take it to London, not to Paris. That is also true with an expensive Dutch painting. You’ll sell it in London rather than in Amsterdam.

VoR: Have you observed an evolution during the past decade?

William MacDougall: There has been a very rapid growth of demand for Russian art. It has been one of the strongest growing asset classes of the last decade.

VoR: How does this situation impact your own business?

William MacDougall: Our market is Russia. So although the auctions are held in London, 90% of the buyers come from Moscow and Kiev. Sixty per cent of the buyers live in Moscow. We are mainly sourcing art in the West, and selling to Russians. We are returning the heritage. Half of what we sell comes to Moscow afterwards.

VoR: Do Russian art buyers have specificities?

William MacDougall: Yes, and that is why we are succeeding in this market niche. We are designed specifically for Russian buyers and Russian art. And what is important of course is the Russian language. The majority of our staff was born in Russia.

VoR: And about your Russian clients, are they different from American or European collectors?

William MacDougall: There are small differences. If you come to one of our auctions in London, you’ll see a table where you can sit with one of the directors and have a cup of tea. In a typical English auction house, you’ll have to call somebody down, and eventually someone will come down and speak to you.

There is a Russian style of doing things and we try to create a more Russian atmosphere in our auction house. But art collectors all around the world have strong similarities, they are people who love and appreciate art. They also think it is a good investment. They want to impress their friends. And as they have some national feelings as well, they want to buy their country’s art.

VoR: In your opinion could Moscow become a center for art in a few years?

William MacDougall: London is the center for Russian art at auctions, but for galleries Moscow is much more important. Somebody who wants to buy a painting on the spur of the moment will go to a gallery in Moscow, of course. But, if he is planning several months ahead, he will go to the auctions in London, where he is likely to get better prices, see good works under a very special atmosphere.

So London is not a center for galleries, Moscow is pretty much this center. There are galleries for Russian art in London. There are even a couple of important ones like Calvert 22 or Regina, but the Moscow ones tend to be much more important.

VoR: It is usually said that the art market in Russia is concentrated in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Is there also an interest for modern and contemporary art in the regions beyond the capital city?

William MacDougall: There is a growing interest, but Moscow still dominates. Moscow is very much more important than the regions, it is certainly true. People in the regions, who are interested in art, tend to come to Moscow to see galleries and exhibitions. And Saint-Petersburg is the second most important place.

We are starting to see buying from the regions. And we are trying to promote that as well. For example, I went to Ulyanovsk a few weeks ago for the Plastov Art Festival there.

VoR: What do you think about Russian contemporary art? Could you recommend to our readers some promising Russian artists?

William MacDougall: I will make a more general statement. Russian contemporary art is underappreciated at the moment in the market. It is relatively cheap. It is a very good value compared to Russian classical and to international contemporary. The Russian buyers tend to either buy Russian classical or international contemporary, rather than collecting Russian contemporary. So it is extremely good valued, and I think people should take an active interest in Russian art that is being painted today and in the last thirty or forty years. It is for sure a very good investment.

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