July 1, 2008 / 11:32 PM / 11 years ago

Sotheby's summer sale record as art goes on rising

LONDON (Reuters) - Sotheby’s held its contemporary art auction on Tuesday, the last in a series of big London sales that raised more than $1 billion and underlined how the world’s super-rich are paying up despite the gloomy economic outlook.

A Sotheby's employee displays Francis Bacon's "Study for Head of George Dyer" in an undated handout photo. REUTERS/Sotheby's/Handout

Sotheby’s raised 95 million pounds ($189 million) on Tuesday from its evening contemporary art sale, the highest total for a summer contemporary auction held in Europe and just shy of the overall regional record set in February.

Francis Bacon’s “Study for Head of George Dyer”, a depiction of the artist’s lover, fetched $27.4 million, including commission, and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled (Pecho/Oreja)”, owned by Irish rock band U2, sold for $10.1 million.

But another Bacon, “Figure Turning”, expected to go under the hammer for around $25 million, failed to sell.

Rival auction house Christie’s sold art worth $172 million at its equivalent sale on Monday.

With only the less important Sotheby’s contemporary day sale to go on Wednesday, the two dominant auctioneers have sold works worth just over $1 billion during the summer season, which includes impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary art.

Christie’s raised around $552 million and Sotheby’s about $449 million so far.

The results defied predictions by some experts that the art market, like stocks and house prices, would see a correction, or even a severe downturn soon.

NEW ASSET CLASS?

Art is increasingly being seen as a financial asset as well as an object of beauty, experts say, and the fact that some collectors are suffering from the credit crunch means the quality of works on offer improves as they seek to raise cash.

London is also starting to rival New York as the world’s most important auction centre, both because of a weak dollar against the pound and the fact that London is home to more wealthy buyers from Russia, India and the Middle East.

The highlight of the London summer sales was a new record for Monet, when a water-lily painting sold for $80.5 million, doubling the previous auction record for the artist.

Soon after, Sotheby’s set a record for any futurist work of art at auction when “Danseuse”, a 1915 work by Italy’s Gino Severini, sold for $29.6 million, seven times the artist’s previous top price.

Senior executives have voiced confidence that the art market has the depth to sustain soaring values, in spite of falling stocks and house prices twinned with rising oil costs.

Jussi Pylkkanen, President of Christie’s Europe, said the success of auctions held around the world in recent months “demonstrated the continued strength, depth and breadth of the global art market.”

But although Russians have been a key factor in booming art sales, there is some concern they may inflate impressionist prices in the same way Japanese money did around 20 years ago before it quickly disappeared causing the market to crash.

(To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at blogs.reuters.com/fanfare)

Editing by Giles Elgood

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