It’s not entirely out of place that the Kandinsky Prize event, the Russian equivalent of the Turner Prize, was relocated to London this year. Russians have always flocked here, and they show up in force during Frieze. On Friday night, after a frenzy of viewing and spending, the grandees of the Russian community converged at the rambling edifice that is the Louise Blouin Foundation headquarters to celebrate the nominations for the country’s most important contemporary art award. Blouin, the French-Canadian arts patron-cum-publisher, has hosted many a bacchanalian event at her HQ, but Friday night was the barn burner of Frieze. You could be forgiven if you thought that you had stumbled onto a pre-revolution scene since all the ersatz czars and czarinas were present. It was an electrifying environment, since surely nothing can create excitement in a room as much as high-net individuals on a spending spree.
The mix of revelers included Boris Yeltsin’s daughter Tatiana Umashiva; the First Lady of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff; the Crown Prince and Princess of Yugoslavia; models Saffron Aldridge, Yasmin Mills, and Tolula Adeyemi; and gallerist Simon de Pury. There were also key artists, curators, and patrons, including collector Shalva Breus, performance artist Oleg Kulik, and architect Boris Bernaskoni. They all were discussing the sales that hit north of a million at the Gagosian booth and the authoritative presence of spendy, art-loving oligarchs. The evening proved that rumors of the demise of the art market are greatly exaggerated—at least in some circles. “There have always been buyers in Russia,” said Muscovite Vsevolod Kovalchuk, who, when not buying art, drills for oil. “We just wait for the price to be right, and then snap things up—preferably when no one is looking, since anonymity is good. But make no mistake, in Moscow, as a consumer product, art is in a league of its own, even above fashion or real estate.”