Art market buzzes ahead of Basel, London sales

Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:22am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Billions of dollars of art will be on show in Basel at the annual fair this week and in London ahead of a big series of sales, with experts cautiously optimistic that buyers are set to snap up rare treasures.

Art Basel, described as the world's top fair for modern and contemporary works, opens on Wednesday with 300 galleries displaying works with a combined total worth of around $1.75 billion, according to specialist insurer Hiscox.

"We didn't do a calculation last year, but my guess is that this year is up about 15 percent (on 2010)," said Hiscox fine art specialist Robert Read.

He added that the mood in the market was generally confident, with the sharp contraction in global sales in 2009 already a fading memory.

"I think we're further away from the bad news," he told Reuters. "People forget things so quickly. Buying art is fun and sexy, and people were never going to give it up forever, were they?"

Once the wheeling and dealing in Basel is done by its close on June 19, the focus shifts to London where rivals Christie's and Sotheby's hold sales where the strength or otherwise of the market will be more visible.

Christie's described its upcoming season as "one of the company's richest and most exciting," and expects to raise more than 250 million pounds ($410 million) over four weeks.

The company has opened an exhibition in London this week of more than 100 works to be offered to super-rich collectors and investors, including a drawing by Michelangelo and paintings by George Stubbs, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso.   Continued...

<p>New York Yankees baseball player Alex Rodriquez (L) looks at artwork during a preview of the Art Basel Miami Beach art show at the Miami Beach Convention Center December 1, 2010. REUTERS/Hans Deryk</p>