Top auction houses to put art market rally to test

Mon Feb 6, 2012 5:50am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Auction houses pinching themselves after bumper 2011 sales are now turning their attention to 2012, amid cautious optimism that the two-year bull run for top works of art will continue.

Sotheby's and Christie's, the world's leading auctioneers, hold a series of big sales in London over the next two weeks at which the old rivals expect to raise more than 500 million pounds ($800 million).

This time last year the equivalent auctions fetched a combined total of around 425 million pounds, although that was inflated by Sotheby's one-off "Looking Closely" sale that took in a hefty 93.5 million.

Anders Petterson, managing director of the ArtTactic analytical group, said there was quiet confidence that the art market could shake off broader economic blues in 2012.

"Overall the tone is neutral with a positive bias," he told Reuters, summing up the findings of ArtTactic's "Art Market Outlook 2012" report released last week.

"If something really major happens in the (financial) markets then all bets are off, but if things stay as they are we are likely to see a continuation of current levels.

"The auction houses will focus on the very top end and the very rare works of art for which there will be people with the money to buy no matter what's happening on the markets."

After a sharp contraction in late 2008 and throughout 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis, art sales have soared in 2010 and 2011.   Continued...