As art flies off the walls at Basel, buyers beware, experts warn

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“When did so many people start caring about contemporary art?” wondered Marc Glimcher, head of the Pace gallery empire, as he busily made deals at Art Basel’s VIP preview this week.

With 291 galleries from 35 countries presenting 4,000 artists’ works, the world’s most prestigious art fair is as much a place to hobnob as it is to buy and sell an estimated 2.5 billion to 3 billion euros ($2.8-3.4 billion) of , reports Reuters.

This year’s fair — hard on the heels of a $110.5 million sale of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at a Sotheby’s auction in New York — got off to a fast clip, dispelling a somber market mood last year.

At the Levy Gorvy booth, a collector snatched up a small Joan Miro on paper while the gallery’s co-founder and former Christie’s chairman Brett Gorvy showed another potential buyer a nearby work.

A large painting from the late German artist Sigmar Polke’s flamingo and heron series, which caught the eyes of four buyers, sold for around $12 million, while a $32 million Basquiat attracted museum curators and dealers.

“I always said I won’t leave in a downturn or when the market is riding a rocket to the top,” said top dealmaker Gorvy on his departure from Christie’s in December to join forces with dealer Dominique Levy.

“It feels like there’s a nice steady rise.”

With mid-market prices ranging from $50,000 to $1 million, art deals represent “large and infrequent purchases” even among the world’s growing population of millionaires, art economist Clare McAndrew said.

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