Art market may be less rosy than top sales suggest

Wed Jul 2, 2008 12:45pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - There are enough "recession-proof," super-rich buyers to push soaring prices for the best works of art still higher, experts predict, but the picture is less rosy at the lower end of the market.

And in a world where perception is everything, values for even the world's most sought-after artists could come back down to earth with a bump if confidence were to slide.

Christie's and Sotheby's, the world's two top auctioneers, have just completed a series of summer sales in London that raised more than $1 billion, underlining how resilient the top end of the market is despite growing economic gloom.

Records tumbled and bidding was aggressive in the saleroom, as last week when a Monet water-lily painting fetched $80.5 million, doubling the previous high for the French master.

Christie's raised $552 million overall during the London summer season of impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary art, while Sotheby's raised $449 million with just the relatively minor contemporary day sale to go.

"At the high end of the market there is a combination of extreme wealth and a lack of alternative assets for these people," said Anders Petterson, founder of ArtTactic which tracks confidence in the art market.

"Auction houses are appealing to largely recession-proof buyers, including wealthy individuals from the Middle East, Russia and India."

But falling share prices and inflationary pressures appear to be taking their toll on the middle market, he added.   Continued...

<p>Auctioneer Claudia Steinfels brings the gavel down as a painting is sold during Sotheby's auction of 154 pieces of Swiss art in Zurich May 27, 2008. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann</p>