Contemporary auctions aim to cement art recovery

Confidence has returned to the art market faster than predicted, and although contemporary values were hit hard by the credit crunch, auctioneers are confident this week's sales will cement recovery.

A week after a new world auction record of $104.3 million (Dh383m) was set by Sotheby's for Giacometti's stick-thin statue L'homme ui marche I (Walking Man I), the auction house and its rival, Christie's, hold post-war and contemporary sales in London. These are expected to eclipse last year's disappointing levels.

But questions remain over the strength of the global economic recovery, and over whether post-war and contemporary works on offer have the same rarity factor as recent old master, modern and impressionist auctions. In its latest survey of confidence in the US and European contemporary sector, the ArtTactic research group said it had returned to levels last seen in autumn 2007.

"Both the primary and auction market confidence are now in positive territory, signalling that we could see a further uplift in the market from current levels," it said.

"However, uncertainty about the sustainability of the global economic recovery remains."

Christie's sold art worth just £8.4m (Dh48m) at its equivalent auction in 2009, but estimates that it will bring in £26.3m to £38.3m tomorrow. Sotheby's fared better in early 2009, raising £17.9m at its evening sale in February. Today, it expects to earn £32.3m to £45.2m.

The sharply higher numbers are partly explained by contemporary sales in New York in November, where Christie's sold $74.2m worth of art and Sotheby's $134.4m.

Those results already suggested that the crisis, which knocked contemporary values and deterred sellers, was already over for wealthy collectors who view art as an investment opportunity or an aesthetic choice, or both. Art experts believe that, frustrated at limited returns in some markets, millionaires have been attracted to physical commodities ranging from gold to paintings.

With Chinese tycoons joining the recent Russian rush into art, added to private and institutional buying from the Middle East where major new museums are opening, confidence is returning to pre-crisis levels.

In December, Christie's sold the most expensive lot of 2009, a Raphael, for $47.9m, a record for any work on paper.

 

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