London is the venue for a summer of blockbuster art sales. Auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's both have top works on offer in the next two weeks, with some analysts expecting sales to top 1 billion dollars. Ivor Bennett asks if the current investor interest in art is sustainable.
They are, quite literally, some of art's holy grails. Francis Bacon's highly-sought after popes. This one - 'Study for a Pope I' - is expected to fetch upwards of 40 million dollars at Sotheby's auction house this week. A small price to pay by art's new collectors, says the Fine Art Fund's Philip Hoffman. SOUNDBITE (English) PHILIP HOFFMAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, THE FINE ART FUND GROUP, SAYING: "They might spend 500 million dollars a year some of these collectors. And they want really the best and the most famous. And Bacon is iconic. Of popes, there are only perhaps 8 in this series. And if you want something that's very rare, a masterpiece that you can buy today, this is what you'd get." Works by Manet, Warhol and Klimt are all up for grabs at Sotheby's two summer auctions in London. Total sales estimated to reach 450 million dollars. 15 years ago, it was barely a tenth of that. Prices driven up by rising demand and a limited supply. Malevich's 'Suprematism, 18th Construction' a perfect example. SOUNDBITE (English) IVOR BENNETT, REUTERS REPORTER, SAYING: "Although there are plenty of fakes knocking around, the real thing is much harder to come by. This is one of just two that can be directly traced back to the artist. And at 30 million dollars, it's considered cheap." For this painting, buyers are expected to come from Russia. The sanctions clearly no barrier for billionaires. Asian and Middle Eastern demand is also strong. Helping combined auction sales in New York last month to breach 2 billion dollars. But talk of a bubble is misplaced, says Jeremy Batstone-Carr from Charles Stanley. SOUNDBITE (English) JEREMY BATSTONE-CARR, CHIEF STRATEGIST, CHARLES STANLEY, SAYING: "Many investors, particularly given elevated valuations, are perhaps now looking at taking some of their money out of equity and bond market and putting it somewhere else. I think this is more an indication of bubble conditions in the traditional financial markets than perhaps in the art market." Spotting a good investment though isn't easy. Peter Doig was relatively unheard of 10 years ago. This painting is now expected to fetch 10 million dollars. Get in while you can then, while it's still, relatively, cheap.