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Art as a Safe Haven? Basel Art Fair Tests Confidence

Look in Venice, buy in Basel – that is the credo for art lovers around the world.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - JUNE 14: A visitor pass the Jorinde Voigt, 308 Views, 2011 artwork on June 14, 2011 in Basel, Switzerland. 300 art galleries selected by the fair will display works by more than 2,500 artists to 60,000 art enthusiasts during this 42nd edition of Art Basel, the most prestigious art fair in the world, which runs until the 19th of June 2011. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Harold Cunningham
BASEL, SWITZERLAND - JUNE 14: A visitor pass the Jorinde Voigt, 308 Views, 2011 artwork on June 14, 2011 in Basel, Switzerland. 300 art galleries selected by the fair will display works by more than 2,500 artists to 60,000 art enthusiasts during this 42nd edition of Art Basel, the most prestigious art fair in the world, which runs until the 19th of June 2011. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

ArtBasel, to many the most prestigious modern- and contemporary art fair, opened its doors on June 15 for the 42nd time, hot on the heels of the Venice Biennale last week.

In the bustling halls of ArtBasel, art dealers mingle with gallerists, artists and a throng of laymen art experts.

With more than 300 galleries and 2,500 artists from all over the world presenting their works of art, visitors are spoilt for choice.

The distinguished and sophisticated crowd is browsing the halls for the latest “must-have” piece of modern, speaking is hushed voices about prices which can top millions of dollars.

According to specialist insurer Hiscox, $1.75 billion worth of art has been insured for this year’s fair.

Judging by the masses of visitors, the prices and the general mood at these prestigious events, art collectors appear to have buried memories of the sharp slump in global art sales in 2009.

However, a new sense of caution seems to have been instilled in the industry’s mind.

“So far the mood has been very upbeat this year, with impressive sales for pieces from strong, established artists”, says Randall James Willette , Managing Director at at London-based Fine Art Wealth Management.

“The buyers’ preference shows a flight to quality pattern similar to the movements in the financial markets. Dealers are looking for something which can be a store of value, a safe haven," he said.

If you don’t happen to have that sort of pocket change and still consider the art market an attractive investment, you can put your money in one of the many art investment funds.

Globally, these funds have some $800 million under management, according to the latest Art & Passion Investment Fund Report from Fine Art Wealth Management.

While investors in art funds have become increasingly selective and are wary of governance and risk management issues after the financial crisis, the report reveals that momentum for investments from developing countries is strong.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - JUNE 14: Two vistors look at the Anish Kapoor, Push - Pull, 2008 artwork on June 14, 2011 in Basel, Switzerland. 300 art galleries selected by the fair will display works by more than 2,500 artists to 60,000 art enthusiasts during this 42nd edition of Art Basel, the most prestigious art fair in the world, which runs until the 19th of June 2011. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Harold Cunningham
BASEL, SWITZERLAND - JUNE 14: Two vistors look at the Anish Kapoor, Push - Pull, 2008 artwork on June 14, 2011 in Basel, Switzerland. 300 art galleries selected by the fair will display works by more than 2,500 artists to 60,000 art enthusiasts during this 42nd edition of Art Basel, the most prestigious art fair in the world, which runs until the 19th of June 2011. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

"Chinese and Brazilian art funds are raising capital among a new generation of wealthy investors in these markets looking to diversify their assets (…), creating a new group of young and avid art collectors. Art funds in developing economies appear to be succeeding whereas some Western art funds are struggling," it said.

Owners of ArtBasel haven’t ignored that trend and in early May snapped up the majority stake in Asian Art Fairs Ltd, which organizes the relatively young Hong Kong Art Fair.

After Miami and Basel, the modern and contemporary fair will now tap seemingly insatiable the demand from Asian collectors for fine pieces of art.

And the art circus moves on.

After ArtBasel closes its gates on Sunday, the art elite will gather in London, where Christie’s and Sotheby’s will auction off a series of paintings and sculptures, estimated to be worth as much as 5.8 million pounds a piece (for those of you interested – this is a sculpture by Dutchman Adriaen de Vries).

Christie’s and Sotheby’s have both been optimistic about the prospective sales.

Christie’s told Reuters that the upcoming auction season is one of the company’s richest and most exciting with expected sales of more than 250 million pounds over four weeks.

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