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The rich flip art for big bucks: Billionaire collector

It's kind of like house flipping for billionaires.

There's a new and lucrative trend emerging in the art world: Buy and sell more frequently and at higher and higher prices. That's the way billionaire investor and art collector Wilbur Ross describes it.

"The market for all art is hot," the widely followed vulture capitalist told CNBC on Thursday.

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A man looking at the painting 'View of Avignon from the right bank of the Rhone' by 18th century French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet at Sotheby's auction house in London.
Andrew Cowie | AFP | Getty Images
A man looking at the painting 'View of Avignon from the right bank of the Rhone' by 18th century French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet at Sotheby's auction house in London.

In London last week, auction houses Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips raised about $340 million from sales of post-war and contemporary art. That's a 26 percent increase from the equivalent series of sales last summer, according to The New York Times. In March, they pulled in a combined $1.6 billion in a series of sales in New York.

Ross said he started buying art because he liked it, but recently it's become a rather profitable passion.

"We collect surrealistic paintings," the WL Ross chairman said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "I think if you deal with distressed companies, you ought to collect surrealism."

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Art used to be the kind of asset that investors had to hold on to for while to make money. But right now, many rich collectors are buying and selling more often and making a killing, said Ross, who favors the work of surrealist Rene Magritte.

He said it's popular among "the young hedge fund" crowd and private investors in the U.S., China, Russia and Mideast. In some cases, "20-plus people are bidding on one object and that is a lot."

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—Reported by CNBC's Lori Ann LaRocco and written by Matthew J. Belvedere.

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