Can you talk about the scene?
The first one we had at Moscow State University and we had these [men] behind classroom desks. We had Ilya Kabokov speak, perhaps the greatest living Russian artist, and Mikhail Kamensky [director of Sotheby’s Moscow].
[The collectors] were shy to come with a girlfriend, which was unusual; normally [these] people come with an entourage. But they came with their wives; it was a serous thing to do.
What did they want to know?
One of the biggest questions they had was, when should they get suspicious? They get all kinds of advice of what is the new thing to do … the new name. It is immediately clear from this discussion how little objective knowledge is available to Russian art buyers.
You think buyers, Russian and others, were taken advantage of?
[Some sellers were] brutally abusing people’s lack of knowledge and lack of information and selling them the wrong things at the wrong prices. … It’s not customer fraud if you find a buyer willing to pay 100 times more than somebody else is wiling to pay: In the art market, you’re not a con artist, you’re a genius art dealer.
What’s your advice for collectors today?
A good collector is not sitting in the woods on top of his trophy position. They need a strategy. … Quite a few people are being very quiet about their possessions, but if they re not exhibiting, they are making a mistake. Keep the visibility of your collection. If you are a backer of an art dealer or artist, you need to put more capital in and be involved in market-making.
What could stop the art-market recovery?
If the capital markets stabilize and people feel we are on our way to recovery, I think it will take a lot of steam out of the art market [because investors would return to] normal asset allocation ratios. Then again, improved confidence would create more wealth that would plug back into the art market in a year or two.