Uncertain art world eyes key European auctions

Mon Feb 2, 2009 8:22am EST
 
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Big art sales in Europe this month are a step into the unknown for auction houses, as they seek to gauge how the economic turmoil is affecting wealthy clients' appetite for multi-million dollar works of art.

The booming market for top-quality works turned sharply lower in late 2008, particularly for contemporary art which had enjoyed a long run of spectacular gains.

But the fallout from the banking crisis and tumbling values of oil, stocks and property has not yet been as bad as some experts predicted.

Auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's this week and next in London, and at the end of February in Paris, will tell more about whether the worsening financial climate is to be fully reflected in prices as the hammers go down.

"It is a question of whether one feels that the market reflects the general economy and to what extent the banking crisis influences values of works of art which collectors have only one opportunity in a lifetime to buy," said Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie's Europe.

"After the sales in London and Paris the market will have a clearer idea," he told Reuters at the auctioneer's London showroom surrounded by works by Monet, Modigliani, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

FEWER, RARER WORKS

Sotheby's and Christie's have tried to focus on fewer works of high quality that have rarely, if ever, come to market, in order to lure big spenders during difficult economic times.   Continued...