New and Asian buyers propel Christie's art sales to record high

LONDON Wed Jan 22, 2014 3:24pm EST

A worker poses with Paul Delvaux's ''La Venus endormie'' at Christie's auction house in London January 13, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

A worker poses with Paul Delvaux's ''La Venus endormie'' at Christie's auction house in London January 13, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - Christie's art sales surged to a record high of £4.54 billion ($7.13 billion) in 2013 as new buyers and rising Asian demand contributed to a buoyant art market in a fragile global economy.

Sales at the London-based auction house rose 16 percent from 2012, Christie's said on Wednesday, helped by a push to attract Asian art collectors that included the company's first auctions in China and India in 2013.

Traditional markets in Europe accounted for 54 percent of last year's buyers with another 30 percent from the Americas. Asia's share was almost 16 percent and Chinese buyers increased their art spending by 63 percent on 2012.

"Over the next three years you'll see even more significant growth from China, India, Russia and the Middle East as we engage more clients," said Jussi Pylkkanen, President of Christie's Europe.

Years of booming commodity prices and a liquidity glut have led to the rise of a class of super-wealthy collectors from Asia, the Middle East and Russia.

In a sign of strong prices, Christie's New York sale of Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" for $142.4 million in November made it the most expensive piece of art ever sold.

Overall, a third of the buyers in 2013 were new to Christie's and accounted for over a fifth of global sales. Private sales were also a strong driver of growth, rising 20 percent to £760.5 million.

APPLE COMPUTER

Christie's had tiny online sales of £13.2 million, of which the most expensive item was an original Apple computer, known as Apple-1, which sold for almost $400,000.

"Our strategy to invest in new markets such as China, new channels such as private sales and online sales, and to build on our position at the leading auction house, has enabled Christie's to grow," Chief Executive Steven Murphy said.

Soaring art prices at a time of economic uncertainty have stoked fears of an art bubble. But sales have remained healthy thanks to a broader range of international buyers helping support the key British and U.S. markets.

Rival auction house Sotheby's said on Wednesday its sales grew by almost 20 percent last year, making it the fastest growing art auctioneer in 2013 and underscoring a burgeoning art market.

Sotheby's will release 2013 results at the end of February.

Pylkkanen predicted that new buyers would continue to flock to the art market, downplaying suggestions that economic uncertainties and an impending end to easy money from the world's central banks could dent demand.

"You've seen a huge expansion of collectors and institutions who are prepared to compete at the top level," he said.

(Reporting By Julia Fioretti, editing by Alister Doyle)

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