A small but growing group of regional salerooms contacted ATG to say they had implemented a ban to show their support for Ukraine.
With further sanctions being applied on Russian individuals and banks, including some being removed from the Swift clearing system, it is expected more firms will follow suit as it becomes increasingly difficult to take payments from clients located in Russia.
In a statement, the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers (SOFAA) said it “is in contact with its members about the situation in Ukraine and circulated an email recently giving details of how to ban buyers in Russia online”.
Chairman Helen Carless said it was a matter of choice and some auction houses had opted not to prevent individual bidders in this way: “What the society will not be doing is instructing its members on what they should do. That will be a decision to be taken by the individual member.”
Complying with sanctions
The invasion of Ukraine has focused attention on Russian money in the art market. Labour MP Chris Bryant tweeted: “Auction houses are likely to see some very valuable assets being traded by Putin supporters. They should refuse to handle them.”
ATG contacted four of the leading London salerooms that regularly deal with Russian clients and Russian art. While none said explicitly they were introducing a ban on bidders, those that replied emphasised they would be complying with sanctions.
Christie’s said that a “small number” of Russian clients bidding at its 20th/21st century art auction in London last week had been cleared through its “stringent client identification and screening process, in full compliance with regulations”. The auction house added it had postponed the sale of the Paul Destribats collection of books (mainly Russian avant-garde books) due to take place in Paris later this month.
Christie’s said it will make a donation to the United Nations Refugee Agency and The Red Cross in support of Ukraine.
Sotheby’s said: “We are closely following the developments around sanctions lists and will comply with any regulations put in place.” Asked if Russian art sales scheduled for London in June would go ahead as planned, a spokesperson said: “It is still early days… We are looking at the evolving situation.”
It is not known how many of the 100-plus Russian individuals and entities that have been targeted by UK sanctions are active in the art market but at least a few are major spenders.
One who appears on the EU sanctions list is Pyotr Aven, the head of Alfa Bank Group, who has amassed an important collection of Russian pictures as well as Modern British and European art. While he pledged to contest the sanctions, he stepped down as a Royal Academy trustee last week.
Auction house Phillips, owned by Russia’s luxury goods conglomerate Mercury Group since 2008, announced that it would donate all of its buyer’s and vendor’s premium from its 20th century & contemporary art evening sale on March 3 to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society – a sum which it later announced totalled £5.8m. Its CEO Stephen Brooks said on Twitter: “We at Phillips unequivocally condemn the invasion of Ukraine. Along with the rest of the art world, we have been shocked and saddened by the tragic events unfolding.”
Dealer James Butterwick, a specialist in Ukrainian art, plans to donate 15% of his sales at this year's TEFAF Maastricht to the International Red Cross.
Dealer association LAPADA is contacting members about its next Anti-Money Laundering training session, which will have particular reference to the deepening sanctions around Russi, while chairman of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF) Anthony Browne said: “For many years sanctions legislation has applied and BAMF is confident our members are well aware of the responsibilities that entails. This appalling conflict has extended the scale and scope of these sanctions and the action needed to be taken.”
Museums and galleries have also been reviewing their positions. The current V&A exhibition, due to run until May 8, Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is understood to have a number of pieces on loan from Russian collectors.
The museum said: “The V&A remains in contact with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport on the evolving situation in the Ukraine.”
The latest statement on the UK’s economic sanctions is on the government website via https://atg.news/Russiasanctions.