Wish You Were Here

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Geoffrey Bradfield reports on mogul manoeuvres.

“Power without a nation’s confidence is nothing.” A sage quote from Catherine the Great captures perfectly the spirit of a present day Russia filled with bold exuberance, almost unrecognizable after a 10 year absence.

As a three-day guest of the Moscow World Fine Art Fair, the trip left me with no doubt that the Ruble rules and power in the art world is making a decided shift eastward. In a country where new oligarchs are seemingly everywhere, the true privilege appears to lie in the hands of the Kremlin and its elite with their ability to stop the strangled street traffic, coming and going as they please. If one could take these snarled horrors out of the equation, what a city of excitement.

Not since the days of the Romanoffs has so much of the world’s treasure been on display in the Russian capital nor have such colossal fortunes changed hands. Glamorous arm candy smothered in diamonds, with legs from here until next Tuesday, swanned on the arms of their millionaires with an unquenchable thirst for art, jewelery, and the latest signature trapping of an emerging high society. Harry Winston was a veritable honey pot. All rather lightweight indulgence, however, compared to Irina’s divorce from Roman Abramovich, rumored to be a record-shattering $2 billion in cash and property.

While the Russians buy megayachts and soccer teams and placate ex-wives, Americans remain unrivalled in their dedication to charity. Nowhere outside of New York has the combination of means and philanthropy produced greater generosity. Last month alone, the Robin Hood Foundation raised $58 million in one evening, which should make anyone proud to be American. Even in a recession, tycoons spring for million dollar tables.

 Back briefly in New York, following on the heels of strong European sales, a frenzied, party-like season of record-breaking art auctions.

Keeping up with the season’s black-tie marathon, I attended an intimate dinner in honor of Prince Edward the Earl of Wessex at the 86th floor aerie of collector Dr. William Haseltine. Elegant female admirers including Ilona Kogan and Mitzi Perdue flocked around HRH and, in true Windsor style, he charmed them all. More Anglophile activity had the London Philharmonic Orchestra honor Sir André Previn with its Lifetime Achievement Award at the sumptuous ballroom of the Metropolitan Club. Chairs of the event April and Roddy Gow invited me to join their table. A prestigious roster of music lovers included Audrey and Martin Gruss, Barbara and Donald Tober, and a slew of English titles.

At one of the last bastions of “Old New York,” WASP wizard Mark Gilbertson hosted his annual cocktail party and had no difficulty filling the cavernous environs of his private club with a cross-section of Social Register, entertainment celebrity, and a brace of billionaires. Included in the refined mix were Debbie Bancroft, Melissa and Chappy Morris, Julia and David Koch, Cece Cord, Dana Stubgen, and Pauline Pitt.

I can but speak for myself, but the last six weeks would have challenged even the likes of a young Chuck Yeager. Schedules have included an overdue South African visit to my ever-patient mother…coinciding with a personal invitation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to visit one of his most deserving projects, the awe-inspiring Phelophepa Train, which delivers primary healthcare to millions in the rural areas of my upbringing. I was in very good company. The humanitarian reach has become so international that a fellow guest was HRH Princess Haya, beautiful daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, and married to HH Sheikh Maktoum of Dubai.

Back briefly in New York, following on the heels of strong European sales, a frenzied, party-like season of record-breaking art auctions. In contrast to the vulnerable stock markets, Sotheby’s sold a Francis Bacon triptych for $83 million, far-surpassing the $70 million top estimate. Pop artist Takashi Murakami in mucky blue jeans and pulled back hair looked like the cat who licked the cream as his provocative sculpture, My Lonesome Cowboy, went to a telephone bidder for $15.1 million (nearly four times its high estimate).

On rival turf, Christie’s certainly held their own, selling a red and yellow Rothko for $50.4 million and, though the lots at Philip’s were generally lower than their uptown competitors, it is hard to feel that there were any steals with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, Fallen Angel, selling for more than $11 million. Recession, what recession?

My annual London sojourn of 35 years standing allows me to explore the Olympia and Grosvenor art and antique shows. The dress code was relaxed only once, on Sunday evening, for a convivial supper in Eaton Square with Sharon Handler and Ambassador John Loeb. Monday evening I was the envy of all with the gorgeous Uzma Khan in a breath-taking jewelled sari on my arm; we were guests of Sir Geoffrey and Lady Leigh at one of the highlights of the season, the Royal Academy Ball.

Packed until the small hours, stellar Annabel’s has not skipped a beat with its new proprietor. I hosted a dinner there on Wednesday evening, having spent the previous night at the sister establishment, Mark’s, after a full day of races at the Ascot. In the Royal Enclosure were Donna & Rick Soloway, Ivana Trump, Tommy Quick, and Egyptian oilman Aziz Radwan. Thank goodness I have a hollow leg, as Champagne flowed continuously. English traditions die hard.

I feel like the complete hedonist after this merry month, and beg indulgence of a higher order, not unlike Catherine the Great, who declared, “I shall be an autocrat, that’s my trade; and the good Lord will forgive me, that’s His.”

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