International collectors invigorating art auctions

Mon Nov 1, 2010 2:40pm EDT
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Less than two years after a precipitous fall, the art market is flexing its muscles again, emboldened by recent auction records and an influx of determined international collectors rich with cash.

With two works breaking the $100 million mark this year, auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's have convinced such owners of rare and never-auctioned fine art as Steve Wynn that it is a good time to sell -- and reap tremendous profits.

Hordes of wealthy new buyers, ready to spend and anxious to build collections, are injecting life into a market hard-hit by the global financial crisis, experts said.

"The whole market has changed," said Philip Hoffman, chief executive of The Fine Art Group, a London-based art investment house. "There's a huge new group from six or seven countries who are shifting the market."

New collectors from Russia, India, China and Hong Kong, and Mideast wealth centers such as Qatar and Abu Dhabi have made fortunes in oil, gas or commodities such as gold, he said.

"They are coming in with $100 million to build up their collections, and they want it built in one year," he said.

Only one or two such buyers might have emerged at that level each year in the mid-1990s, and now there are 40 or 50, he said. "It's a massive influence."

Christie's nabbed three of the big estate sales, including that of Hollywood star Dennis Hopper, who died in May.   Continued...

<p>Security guards stand near "Coca-Cola [4] Large Coca-Cola" by Andy Warhol during a preview of Sotheby's Impressionist &amp; Modern Art auction in New York October 29, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>