Wires

U.S. collector slams "trophy hunters" inflating art

* Benedict Silverman selling important art collection

* Klimt, Schiele, Meidner, Dix among highlights

* Valued at more than 100 million pounds

* Collector blames "speculators" for art market surge

* Looking forward to art market "bubble" bursting

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) - A U.S. art collector whose 20thcentury paintings from Germany and Austria are valued at morethan 100 million pounds ($160 million) has attacked what hecalled "trophy hunters" who have driven prices higher andcreated a bubble in the market.

Benedict Silverman, a property developer and philanthropist,has decided to put his collection of works by artists includingGustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Otto Dix up for sale to raisefunds for an education fund called Reading Rescue.

The 83-year-old is fully aware that rising prices for thekind of art he has collected over the course of nearly half acentury will benefit his charity work.

But in an outspoken criticism of the market, he accused manybuyers of being interested in art mainly as an investment.

"The prices paid these days are for trophies, not for art,"Silverman told Reuters in emailed responses to questions.

Around 25 paintings, drawings and pieces of furniture are ondisplay at the Richard Nagy gallery in central London and willbe sold privately over a period of time.

"You ask if it (the strength of the art market) is apositive development. It is not. Connoisseur collectors are leftin the dust snapping at the heels of these trophy hunters.

"I think there is a bubble and I can't wait for it to breakas real collectors are interested in the art, not the price."

Auction houses and many market experts argue that there isno bubble in the art market, and that a growing number ofcollectors across an increasing geographical spread are creatinga solid foundation for rising prices.

"LAST SUPPER"

But Silverman's unusually frank opinion, expressed as Londongears up for Frieze art week when hundreds of wealthy buyersdescend on the capital for a whirlwind of auctions, viewings andparties, is a reminder that not everyone is so sanguine.

"Collectors like me will always exist, but they are beingknocked aside by the sharp elbows of speculators andprofessional collection builders who employ more knowledgeablepeople to make their decisions for them," Silverman said.

"Clearly if I was starting today I would not be able tobuild the sort of collection I have and few others will."

Nagy, a long-time collaborator with Silverman, said thecollector had avoided auction houses to sell his art, preferringthe discretion of a gallery and private sales.

"There has been a huge amount of interest, including frommuseums," Nagy told Reuters at his gallery in Old Bond Street.

Not all of the works have been priced, but a large 1917/18Schiele depicting the artist and some of his peers in a versionof the "Last Supper" is on offer at around 30 million pounds.

"Today these artists are seen as part of the mainstream of20th century art, whereas 30 years ago it was thought of as aneccentric side-channel," Nagy added of the period and style ofart on show.

Among the highlights are Ludwig Meidner's "The Incident inthe Suburbs" of 1915, a dark-hued canvas depicting a man pushingaside another figure who has fallen to the ground against abackdrop of distorted buildings.

The picture, the first bought by Silverman in the late1960s, reminded him of himself starting out in real estate and"pushing down" the competition to get ahead.

Schiele's "Around the Table" appears to equate the gatheringof a group of artists with the communion of the Last Supper, andcoming as it did so soon before his death in 1918, it was thefinal work in a long sequence of religious allegories.

His "Woman with Homunculus" of 1910 depicts a semi-nudeyoung woman looking seductively over her shoulder yet alsoturning away from a deformed, child-like creature, while Klimt's"Ria Munk I" of 1912 is a striking deathbed portrait.

Reminiscent of John Everett Millais's "Ophelia", the squarecanvas depicts the daughter of a wealthy Viennese businessmanwho shot herself in the heart after falling out with her lover.

MUSEUMS "DRY AND EMOTIONLESS"

For Silverman, private collections would be the ideal homefor his beloved possessions.

"I lived with all my works, looked at them all every day Iwas in the apartment and hope that the new buyers will do thesame," he explained.

"I prefer the idea of them going to another collector whoimposes his taste on a group of art works and for whom it willhave a resonance even if it is different to mine.

"Do I want them to go to a museum? Probably not, even thoughI know they will eventually end up in museums," added thecollector, who regularly loans his works out to museums.

"Generally I think museums are rather dry and emotionlessplaces that do not bring any personality to the rooms in whichthey are hung, apart from their innate genius."

Asked how he thought he would feel when his art was sold, hereplied: "I will try not to think about it. I have otherpursuits to follow now. Having decided to sell, I'm turning thepage ... and starting a new chapter."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

((Mike.Collett-White@thomsonreuters.com)(tel: +44 7990 560229))

Keywords: ARTS COLLECTION/SILVERMAN