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Christie's says Russian art sales fell 59% in 2008 due to crisis

MOSCOW, February 13 (RIA Novosti) - The value of Russian art sold by Christie's in 2008 fell 59% compared with the year before to $59 million, the Kommersant business daily said on Friday, citing results issued by the auction house.

Christie's global art sales totaled 2.8 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) in 2008, an 11% decrease year-on-year, the company said in a statement.

Despite the fall in sales, the auction house said the importance of the Russian market continued to grow, noting that Natalya Goncharova's Les Fleurs set a record for a female artist when it sold for $10.9 million in June.

Another side to the Russian art market was shown by collectors, led by billionaire Roman Abramovich, who reportedly bought Christie's sixth highest lot last year.

The Chelsea owner is thought to be the buyer who in May set a record for a work by a living artist when Lucian Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sold for $33.6 million.

The auction house said the reduction in art sales was unequal, as impressionist and modern works lost 17% in dollar terms, while post-war and contemporary art lost 30%.

However, Asian art saw a 4% increase in dollar sales in 2008.

"As we move into 2009, recent results and forthcoming consignments give good reason to remain positive about the global art market," Edward Dolman, Christie's chief executive officer, said.

Russia has been hard hit by the global financial crunch that was sparked by the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States last summer and quickly spread to the rest of the world.

The global financial crisis has slashed the total wealth of Russia's top 10 billionaires by 66% to $75.9 billion since last summer.

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