MOSCOW Russia's first major private art fund was launched on Moscow's MICEX stock exchange this week, hoping to attract investors keen for safe if relatively low growth assets.
The 'Sobranie.Photoeffect' fund, created by fund managers Agana, comprises nearly 300,000 original prints by 250 domestic and foreign photographers and is worth a combined $467 million.
The fund, partly made up of Soviet Union collections with the potential for adding contemporary Russian photographers, will target foreign investors in the Russian market offering a safe "investment money shelter," said Ekaterina Aleksandrova, Agana's deputy director general.
The portfolio included photographs of Russia's Tsarist family, the Romanovs, as well as early paparazzi shots of Italian actress Sophia Loren.
"Art investment has proven over a century to be reliable, profitable and not volatile. Art indexes have been growing faster and falling slower than stocks in the S&P 500 index in past decades," Alexandrova said, adding that the 2008-09 financial crisis only affected sale volumes, not prices.
Photography was chosen for the fund as it is the fastest growing segment of the arts market and more accessible to the less well off as most vintage photographs cost hundreds of times less than collectors' paintings, she said.
"Russia holds 20 percent of the world's photo market and is not as developed as the U.S. and Europe, which leaves a great growth potential in this country," said Serge Plantureaux, one of the experts evaluating the fund's collections.
In 2009, the volume of global photography sales reached 1.5 billion euros ($2.17 billion), more than a fifth coming from auction sales.
'Sobranie.Photoeffect' will exist for 15 years, during which it is expected to show at numerous museums around the world, selling 5 to 10 percent of its stock of photos at auctions every year.
Positive results on the stock exchange may lead to listings on other international markets, including London or Luxembourg, Aleksandrova said.
Art-rich Russia has only one other smaller art fund, the 133-million rouble ($4.70 million) Atlanta Art, which began trading last month.
(Editing by John Bowker and David Cowell)