The economic sanctions imposed on Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukovahave inadvertently resulted in a situation where his art collection, valued at nearly $1 billion, is in a state of uncertain ownership. Although it was widely known that Abramovich and his former spouse, , were avid art collectors, the specific contents of their collection remained a mystery. However, The Guardian has recently revealed the details of Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova extensive art acquisitions spanning nearly a decade, describing it as an “exceptional spending spree,” and acclaimed curator Andrew Renton, who teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, has referred to it as a “remarkable collection.”
The entire assortment, consisting of over 300 items (precisely 367) representing various periods in the history of art, is believed to be worth approximately $963 million. At least ten out of the 367 pieces were acquired by Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova for sums exceeding $25 million each.
In February 2022, Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova decreased his ownership share in the trust fund that holds the art collection. As part of their 2016 divorce agreement, the majority of ownership rights were transferred back to his former wife, Zhukova. Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones described how Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova originally acquired the paintings to showcase them in their respective residences.
“Before European and British sanctions, Abramovich was loaning widely yet also treating his private residences as personal museums, hanging early 20th-century classics by Matisse and Picasso in his 1920s villa in the south of France, while intense contemporary art including Richter and Auerbach gave stylish seriousness to his London home.”
The assortment comprises a wide range of artworks, spanning from iconic creations by Picasso and Bacon to more contemporary pieces like Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” from 1995. However, Jones appears to believe that not all of them serve as a showcase of exemplary artistic discernment, with certain pieces possibly acquired primarily for their exorbitant price tags.
“Yet the deeper you look, the less sure you can be of what this collection means to Abramovich. The sheer expense is so staggering it starts to seem as if quality is just equated with price. Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills,’ in which she posed as a Hitchcock heroine, are powerful but they are photographic multiples: why pay more than $3m for one particular print of a reproducible image? At least this is more understandable than the $7,669,845 spent on the overrated Richard Prince’s dumb canvas ‘Surf Safari Nurse.'”
Regardless of the opinions held by art critics about specific pieces he acquired during his collecting frenzy, Abramovich employed his substantial wealth to put together what is likely one of the most remarkable art compilations in history. Furthermore, Abramovich seems to have implemented measures to safeguard it from global economic sanctions. He reduced his ownership in the trust overseeing the collection to 49 percent and entered into an additional agreement that prohibits him from raising his ownership stake any further. This strategic move shields him from sanctions, which typically target assets owned by the sanctioned individual if they own more than 50 percent of those assets.
Since the sanctions were placed on Abramovich, there hasn’t been any sale or donation of items from his collection, despite the absence of direct freezing orders. Art specialist Georgina Adam informed The Guardian that this situation has indirectly impacted both the art community and the general public.
“These sanctions were imposed for good reason. Now, the consequence of Mr. Abramovich’s investment in art is that the public are deprived of the opportunity to enjoy some of the greatest modern and contemporary works.”
The Ukraine’s geopolitical situation carries much greater significance than a collection of paintings, even if they are exceptionally valuable. However, it’s fascinating to consider how this collection is essentially put on hold, awaiting the end of the war and the removal of sanctions.