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Russia, Middle East boost presence in art market

LONDON, Oct 7 (Reuters Life!) - Russian luxury goods outfit Mercury Group will take over auction house Phillips de Pury, while Sotheby’s plans to open an office in Qatar this year, the latest signs of the art world’s shifting power base.

Both moves underline the growing importance of buyers from oil-rich regions like Russia and the Middle East, who, along with Far Eastern collectors, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and sent prices for top artists soaring to record highs.

The strength of the market is all the more remarkable given the global financial crisis, although analysts and experts warn that the disconnect between the world of art and the world of finance may not last forever.

Major tests lie ahead when market leaders Sotheby’s and Christie’s hold a series of contemporary art auctions in New York in November.

Phillips de Pury, based in New York, specialises in contemporary art, and, although considered a “boutique” outlet, is still one of the best-known names in the auction world.

“Russia has clearly emerged as an important art market and there is no doubt that my vision for the company and Mercury Group’s vision are aligned,” said Simon de Pury, who will remain chairman of the company and an “important” shareholder.

In merging with a major Russian player in luxury goods, he added in a statement, the company hoped to tap “new and fast growing markets” and benefit from a much larger capital base.

The Mercury Group is Russia’s largest luxury retail company, Phillips de Pury said, owning the upmarket Tsum department store in Moscow and showrooms for car makers Ferrari, Maserati and Bentley.

Sotheby’s plans to expand its presence in the Middle East by opening an office later this year in Doha and in early 2009 holding its first major international series of auctions there.

“Doha is today a centre of dynamic economic and cultural growth, not only for the region but also internationally,” said Bill Ruprecht, president and chief executive of Sotheby’s.

"The magnificent Museum of Islamic Art as well as other museums planned for this city are stirring huge excitement around the world," he added in a statement. (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato) (To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at blogs.reuters.com/fanfare)

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