London art market woos 'uber-collectors' to buoy summer sales

Sat Jun 8, 2013 11:11am EDT
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By Paul Casciato

LONDON (Reuters) - Auctioneers are pinning their hopes on "uber-collectors" to help London summer art sales top last year's $1 billion total when the series kicks off later this month.

Estimates from Christie's, Sotheby's and smaller rivals such as Phillips and Bonhams for sales over the next few weeks in the British capital show that the paintings, sculptures and furniture under the hammer are on course to defy a sluggish global economy again this year.

The top two houses have put more than $300 million worth of their most expensive works up for sale on public show until June 11 at their London galleries in Mayfair, hoping pre-sale exhibitions might inspire a bit of impulse-buying from serious collectors making the London stop on the art trail.

"What we hope is that the rather more transitory uber-collectors who are in London, Basel and Venice will come in and see things that they wouldn't normally look at," deputy chairman of Christie's Europe, Orlando Rock, told Reuters.

Christie's, the world's biggest auctioneers, has a star lot that is a price-on-request (around $23 million) diptych by 20th century American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, and a painting from Russian Expressionist Wassily Kandinsky, which could set a lifetime record for the artist if it sells north of $23 million. Its top estimate is $24.86 million.

Nearest rival Sotheby's has French Impressionist Claude Monet's "Le Palais Contarini" with a top estimate of $31 million and paintings by 18th century Frenchman Claude-Joseph Vernet ($7.7 million) and British contemporary artist David Hockney ($4.6 million).

Continued weakness in a battered euro zone and slowing Chinese economic growth have made investors wary in the last two years, but high-end art sales have continued to break records.

New York has long been considered the global capital of the auction world - most recent records have been set there.   Continued...

A Sotheby's employee poses with Claude Monet's artwork "Le Palais Contarini" at Sotheby's auction house in London June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor