With dwindling sales and empty showrooms, art auction houses are increasingly relying on what they have dubbed RR: rich Russians. Houses are hoping the record price drawn by a Kasimir Malevich painting earlier this month is proof that the Russian market will escape the downturn that's affecting other sectors. Of the three major houses, Sotheby's has most aggressively courted Russia’s well-heeled aficionados, the Economist reports, and has been rewarded with a 30-fold increase in sales over the last 7 years.
But the real test comes next week, when more than 3,000 Russian works hit the auction block in London. The items, which include romantic 19th-century paintings and bejeweled Fabergé animals, are favorites with Russian buyers. “We’ll have one or two fantastic prices,” predicts a Sotheby’s exec, but “one or two will disappoint. The middle ground will be much harder to predict.”