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The elite show, which hopes to become an annual event, is to be held at the Dolgorukov Palace, a mile south west of the Kremlin.

It is being organised by Geneva-based exhibition specialists Art Culture Studio, with the backing of the City of Moscow and the patronage of the Russian Fine Arts Academy under President Zurab Tsereteli, the renowned Georgian sculptor and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

The fair is to be officially presented as a cultural exhibition rather than a commercial enterprise, so it will feature six-figure price tags, but no on-the-spot business. The organisers tell us that all works are shown as “temporary imports” and deals will have to be finalised at a later date to avoid Russian import duty and red tape.

The fair will occupy 1350sqm on the first floor of the F-shaped, hexastyle-porticoed palace, built for the Dolgoruky family after the Moscow Fire of 1812, and now home to a permanent display of Tsereteli’s work. Stands will vary in size from 25-100sqm, with many occupying individual rooms. Viewing will be split between afternoon sessions (each from 2-5pm) open to the public, and evening sessions (6-9pm) for invited guests. The organisers anticipate a total gate of 60,000 visitors.

“Russia is a place to discover!” says Paris Left Bank dealer Franck Laigneau, one of the moving lights behind the fair, who will be taking a bronze and iron bust of Lucretia by Auguste Clésinger (c.1870), price €60,000, and an exotic 1896 French neo-Renaissance cabinet by Henri Laurent, priced at around €150,000. “We’re going there to get ourselves known!” he says.

Half the exhibitors are from Paris. Dealers in opulent French 18th century furniture and objets d’art, keen to find new clients to offset diminishing demand in the West, will include Philippe Perrin; Pierre and Marc Segoura, offering a pair of Louis XVI gilt-bronze-mounted agate cups on lapis lazuli bases for €220,000; and Aveline, offering a late 18th century mahogany canapé corbeille for around €300,000.

Old Master paintings will be offered by De Jonckheere (a Venetian veduta by Tironi, price $450,000); Monaco’s Maison d’Art (Ricci and Ribera); and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, showing La Cirque by Hubert Robert, who was something of a hero in Tsarist Russia. Modern art
dealers include Yoshii Gallery (New York); Jan Krugier & François Ditesheim (Geneva); and Marlborough (London), offering a 1915 Lipchitz Seated Figure ($600,000) and a large 1986 oil and pastel Francis Bacon Human Body Study ($3.5m). Paris dealers Cazeau-Béraudiere (Soutine and De Staël) and Le Minotaure (Charchoune and Pougny) will be concentrating on East European artists.

The fair will also include Asian art (New York’s Chinese Porcelain Company); books (Librairie Thomas Scheler of Paris); Kunstkammer objects (Bremen’s Galerie Neuse); and silver (Brussels’ Bernard de Leye).

One dealer not taking part in the fair this year, but keen to come in 2005, is the Paris sculpture and Art Deco specialist Bob Vallois, who sees Russia as a “new market that’s just opening up... right now Russians are looking to buy back their history, but soon their tastes will become more modern”.

Although Vallois believes the Russian market can be “complex and difficult” (another international antiques fair, due to be held in Moscow at the start of May, was cancelled at the last minute), he is testing public interest this summer by sponsoring an exhibition devoted to the Minsk-born, Paris-based artist and sculptor Boris Zaborov in St Petersburg and Moscow (April 29-July 18).