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Hundreds of collectors descend on London for the annual contemporary art frenzy
A visitor photographs Tracey Emin's "And I said I love you" at the Frieze Art Fair in Regents Park, central London October 12, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Winning.

By: Mike Collett-White

LONDON (REUTERS).- Will Chinese buyers ride to the rescue? Will the super-rich decide painting and sculpture is a better investment than volatile stocks or risky debt?

Those are the big questions on the art world's lips as hundreds of galleries and collectors descend on London for the annual post-war and contemporary frenzy centered around the October 13-16 Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park.

The annual event held in a giant marquee has quickly become a key date for anyone wanting to acquire top works by modern and living painters.

It has spawned a merry-go-round of auctions, rival fairs like the Pavilion of Art & Design (PAD), major exhibitions, gallery openings including a new White Cube space and, of course, endless glitzy, champagne-fueled parties.

But after two years of strong growth in prices, particularly for top artists, global financial turmoil once again threatens to bring the chill of uncertainty to the week as it did in the wake of the 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse.

Matthew Slotover, co-founder of Frieze who is considered one of the art world's most powerful figures, conceded that concerns over slow economic growth and Europe's debt crisis could weigh on the fair.

But he, like many others, argued that investors may prefer to put their money into a painting than a paper asset.

"It is something tangible and real," he told Reuters in a recent interview, stressing that personally he would not treat art as a financial investment alone.

"In an age where people are losing faith in paper money, in currencies and in equities, it's one of those assets that people feel, well, at least I've got this actual thing."

More and more frequently experts draw a distinction between the top end of the market -- works by household names that rarely come to market -- and mid-range art priced, say, between $100,000 and $500,000.

Anders Petterson, head of ArtTactic which tracks investor confidence in different sectors of the art market, saw his mid-range indicator slump from nearly 90 percent in June to less than 30 percent in October.

Over the same period the indicator for works valued at $1 million or above slipped slightly but remained over 90 percent.

CHINESE THE NEW MEDICIS?

Anthony McNerney, head of contemporary art at Bonhams, summed up the mood among the auction houses.

"It seems that rich people quite often will always stay rich," he told Reuters.

"Obviously there is a lot of nervousness that it (market contraction) will happen again as it did three years ago. I think we've got to carry on as best we can, and if you've got great quality fresh to the market, it really doesn't matter."

The focus on the very best art with strong provenance has seen a narrowing in the art that owners are prepared to sell, with the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Francis Bacon taking up a larger share of auctions.

One "wild card" this week could be demand from Asia's growing number of ultra-wealthy collectors.

A few years ago it was Russian oligarchs who were snapping up much of the world's most expensive art. Now the focus is firmly on China as the land of the "modern-day Medicis."

Recent sales at Sotheby's in Hong Kong gave a mixed picture of Chinese demand for art and luxury goods.

The auctions raised $411 million in spite of difficult conditions on financial markets, yet the total was down from April and of the works on sale, contemporary art struggled most with more than a fifth of lots unsold.

Petterson wrote recently that the kind of "fashionable, cutting-edge contemporary art" typically on show at Frieze could be vulnerable to another downturn.

"Even the top end of the art market might not be quite as safe as investors would like to think if the economic crisis escalates further," he said.

"As research from the last crisis shows, when investor confidence evaporates, all assets start to correlate, something many art market insiders like to forget."

Auction houses will offer works valued at over 100 million pounds ($160 million) this week, and the art displayed at Frieze is estimated by insurer Hiscox to be worth $350 million compared with $375 million last year.

The top lot could be Gerhard Richter's "Candle," estimated by Christie's at 6-9 million pounds, a figure the German artist said last week was "impossible to understand" and "daft."

In fact, talking about art in the same breath as its commercial value is often frowned upon in a world where polite conversation focuses on a painting's aesthetic appeal and meaning and not its price.

But as one video installation featured in this year's Frieze Art Fair catalog states bluntly: "The ART WORLD is dependant (sic) on commerce for its existence."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

White Cube | Frieze Art | Lehman Brothers |




Last Week News

October 12, 2011

Dresden's Museum of Military History redesigned by Architect Daniel Libeskind

Adapting the eye: An archive of the British in India, 1770-1830 at the Yale Center for British Art

Select group of vintage photographs by Eugène Atget at James Hyman Photography

Sotheby's New York to offer four monumental bronze sculptures by Henri Matisse

National Museums Scotland opens show devoted to Admiral Lord Cochrane

Sotheby's to present Abstraction-Figuration: A private collection including works by Gerhard Richter

Atelier 17 and its connection to abstract expressionism and the New York School at Swann Galleries

Bertoia's Toys on Tour auction blends the best of European and American toys from premier collections

Archives of American Art contributes photo collection to Wikimedia commons

Biennale of Sydney announces new Board Director, avid collector Paris Neilson

Lisson Gallery presents a solo exhibition of new work from Cory Arcangel

Guggenheim Museum presents Intervals by Brooklyn-based artist Nicola Lopez

Exhibition of new paintings by British artist Michael Stubbs at Laurent Delaye     

Sevres style porcelain urns bring $65,725 to lead Heritage Auctions' first ever Signature Estate Auction

Franz West sculptures installed on the roof of the Institute of Contemporary Arts

New White Cube opens in London

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art names education director

Exchange and Evolution: Worldwide Video Long Beach 1974-1999

German 14-light Candelabra pair brings $86,638, in Silver & Vertu section of Heritage Auctions event

October 11, 2011

A masterpiece visits De Nieuwe Kerk for five weeks:"The Holy Family" by Rembrandt

Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor romance puts sparkle in diamonds auction at Christie's

First United Kingdom exhibition of drawings by Robert Motherwell opens at Bernard Jacobson Gallery

'Warhol: Bardot' opens at Gagosian Gallery with portraits never exhibited before

Tate St Ives presents The Indiscipline of Painting: International abstraction from the 1960s to now

Tiancheng International to offer Rodin's Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant

Major new body of etchings by British artist Ian Davenport at Alan Cristea Gallery

"Two Schools Of Cool" exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art in California

Warhol art app, showcasing the extensive collection of the Warhol Museum

Camden Arts Centre presents "I saw square triangle sine" exhibition of new works by Haroon Mirza

Sotheby's to offer a spectacular, unique boxed set of Stieg Larsson's celebrated millennium trilogy

British artist Rachel Howard's "Folie a Deux" exhibit on view at Blain-Southern

Exhibition of 5,000 Years of Chinese Jade on view at the San Antonio Museum of Art

Arts funding doesn't show diversity

Gabriel Kuri: Before contingency after the fact exhibition at South London Gallery

Urban Art Projects connects shining artist with Sydney's New Star

Evento 2011 helps reinvent Bordeaux in an ongoing way

World Chess Hall of Fame exhibition explores relationship between art and chess

Los Angeles Modern Auctions breaks multiple records with the Richard Dorso Collection

Judge upholds Barnes Foundation's move to Philly

October 10, 2011

Christie's shows off star New York Lots in newly renovated show rooms in central London

KraftwerkDepot: The storage and change of art over time at MARTa art museum in Herford

Drawings and lithographs of plants by Ellsworth Kelly on view at Pinakothek der Moderne

Magnificent Vision: two centuries of European masterworks from the Speed Art Museum

Backstage Pass: Rock & Roll Photography at the Currier Museum of Art

Picasso's L'Aubade expected to fetch $25 million at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern art evening sale

University of Texas' Harry Ransom Center buys Coetzee archive

Birmingham Museum of Art presents the witty and incisive editorial cartoons of Jean-Honore Daumier

State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970 at the Orange County Museum of Art

Bonhams offers museum quality pieces, fresh to the market, in 20th century British and Irish art sale

The Dubai Sale: Forthcoming auction of Art from the middle east announced at Ayyam Auctions

The Valencian Institute for Modern Art shows the recent works of Chinese artist Mou Huang

Laurie Anderson features Makerbot-printed sculptures in new exhibition at Fabric Workshop & Museum

Three young artists present their works on the topic of Language at Museum Folkwang

Design and Artists Copyright Society announces Mark Stephens CBE as new Chair

DC museum closed after protest; pepper spray used

State's love for old bridges rekindled by storm

Four large-scale sculptures take over three floors of Ibid Projects

Turkey puts repaired Hercules statue on display

October 9, 2011

Exhibition devoted to the works in black and white by Ellsworth Kelly at Haus der Kunst

North American debut of David Hockney's "Fresh Flowers" at the Royal Ontario Museum

World's oldest running motor car brings a remarkable $4,620,000 at RM's Hershey Sale

Three of the greatest painters of the last 200 years are brought together at Moderna Museet

Collectors of contemporary art may bid for a Banksy at the Cumberland Hotel

The Whitney presents "Real/Surreal", exploring two of the strongest currents in twentieth-century American art

Titian masterpiece among highlights of Miami's longest running contemporary art fair

Most ambitious exhibition to date on the work of Brancusi and Serra at the Guggenheim in Bilbao

Beauty as Duty: Textiles on the Home Front in WWII Britain exhibition on view at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Winners Selected for ArtPrize 2011, top prize of $250,000 went to artist Mia Tavonatti

The Québec Triennial 2011: The Work Ahead of Us at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Rare 1920 Gandhi letter advocating peace to be auctioned at Nate D. Sanders

Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac open exhibition at the Centre Pompidou-Metz

"Proto-Pop: The Elegant Object" exhibition at International Poster Gallery

"Bloodlines" James Aldridge first solo exhibition at Poppy Sebire

SOFA Chicago 2011 to feature more than 60 international art galleries and dealers

Des Moines Art Center exhibition looks at relationship between artist and subject in Vincent van Gogh

Kunsthaus Zurich to stage 13 exhibitions in 2012 season

First major retrospective honoring the work of Sheila Hicks opens at the Mint Museum

Massachusetts church shot during Revolution gets overhaul

October 8, 2011

Mexican archaeologists find Aztec temple platform at Mexico City's Templo Mayor ruin

Christie's announces the auction of an exceptional selection of Pop Art masterpieces

"Modern Masters from the Smithsonian American Art Museum" opens at Reynolda House Museum

Degas Dancer estimated at US$25-35 million to lead Christie's Impressionist and Modern evening sale

"Beckmann & America" at the Stadel Museum highlights Max Beckmann's late works

New show at Ordovas Gallery in London examines artist Francis Bacon's debt to Rembrandt

La Dolce Vita: 1950-1960. Stars and Celebrities in the Italian Fifties at Eataly New York

Christie's New York announces sale of selected works from the Herbert Collection this November

Frans Hals Museum confronts contemporary arts with master paintings of the Golden Age

The Pace Gallery presents "pionier" exhibition by German artist Carsten Nicolai

Egyptian treasures from the Brooklyn Museum exhibition opens at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Major exhibition&event that recounts Arte Povera at the Maxxi Museum in Rome

The Whitney presents three Landscapes: A film installation by Roy Lichtenstein

Schwarzenegger inaugurates his museum in Austria

Sotheby's HK autumn sales achieved over US$411 million, the second highest total ever

Jury announced for United Kingdom's biggest painting prize

Miami Art Museum names Chief Financial Officer

International bidders drive Asian works of art auction past pre-sale estimate

Sam Jury is Perlmutter Award winner

October 7, 2011

iPad Launch in Beijing Quiet, Orderly

Most extensive exhibition of Frank Stella's work in the UK to date at Haunch of Venison

Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute acquire Ed Ruscha photographs and archive

Comprehensive retrospective of the leading figure of Soviet Socialist Realism at Fundacion Juan March

Prince William V of Orange Glass Goblet expected to sell for 150,000 at Bonhams     

Architect Frank Gehry reveals new details for Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial

Park Avenue Armory unveils design for multi-year project by Herzog and De Meuron

From Renaissance to Rodin: Celebrating the Tanenbaum Gift at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Midwest collectors drive sales of important Tiffany glass at Christie's New York in December

Sotheby's New York announces annual autumn sale of important Russian art in November

Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin at the Imperial War Museum in London

More than a game of marbles as Greek and Roman sculpture makes top prices at Bonhams

"Surreal versus Surrealism" exhibition on view at the Valencian Institute of Modern Art

Sotheby's Contemporary Art/Arab & Iranian and Arts of the Islamic World sales total $16,843,460

Booming Asian art market shows signs of stalling

Vermont tries to save historic buildings after Irene

Spokesman says Putin's dive treasure find was staged

"Hitler Killed the Duck" solo exhibition by British artist David Bailey at Scream Gallery

Strong attendance and solid results at Auctions America by RM's debut fall Carlisle sale

Dive team retrieves old cannon from Detroit River

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