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Art Fair 'Fatigue' Fails to Deter Buyers at Basel

Friday, 14 Jun 2013 | 1:14 PM ET
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Art Basel, one of the world's most prestigious modern and contemporary art fairs, opened its doors this week for the 44th time. Some $2 billion dollars' worth of artwork is expected to change hands, but with back-to-back fairs on art collectors and dealers' agenda, is "fair fatigue" setting in?

"Absolutely, there is 'fair fatigue'," Lisa Schiff, founder of Schiff Fine Arts, told CNBC. "But as a real collector you still need to be here in Basel. The artwork here is superior. It is really good this year."

"There isn't a stampede like last year, it is fantastic to visit, many are staying just a short amount of time," she added.

Schiff denied that the lower number of visitors in Switzerland so far indicated a slowing appetite for artworks.

"Sales seem strong and prices are high, but the pace of sales feels healthy, not 'bubbly'," she said.

Clare McAndrew, the founder of Art Economics told CNBC, that demand for the best artworks was diverging from the rest of the market.

(Read More: Art Is the Next Gold: Novogratz)

"We are seeing an emergence of high-end pieces doing very well and the rest lagging behind. This definitely makes it more exciting, more competitive," McAndrew said.

Demand for contemporary art in particular has remained high despite the global economic slowdown. Last month, an auction of contemporary art at Christie's saw record sales, with 66 pieces sold for a total of $495 million in one day.

(Read More: Newer Works Expected to Lead Auction Boom)

Record Auction at Sotheby's
Sales at Sotheby's contemporary art auction totaled $293,587,000, reports CNBC's Robert Frank.

Schiff added that diversifying an investment portfolio with art remained a good idea, despite the stock market rally in the first half of this year.

"Art is still a great and healthy way to diversify and there are some pieces that you put your cash into, for which returns are much higher than in equity markets. You just have to know how to buy the right piece of art, and how long to hold it," she said.

McAndrew said the art market was currently driven by the classic economic concept of income and substitution effect.

Regarding the income effect, she said: "If people do well in equity markets, they have more discretionary income to buy nice pieces, so there definitely is a positive correlation."

Meanwhile, the substitution effect is driven by Chinese collectors, McAndrew said. "Art has emerged a lot stronger as an asset class compared with other luxury products, since the dip in 2009. There is a substitution out of property and equities, into art. This especially applies to collectors from China, who do not necessarily have well-developed equity and bond markets and often find it is impossible to buy property in China's big cities."

—By CNBC's Carolin Roth. Follow her @CarolinCNBC

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