In Germany, an increasing number of investors disappointed with the current stock market slump are investing more in art. And not any old art either - top price pieces are the order of the day.
As this year’s Cologne art fair, 'Art Cologne', which kicks off today, Berlin gallerist Michael Schulz is clear about one thing: in the German art world it's "full steam ahead through the crisis".
Indeed, all the 260 galleries attending this year’s fair have reason to be optimistic. All the indications are that German art is selling like hot cakes.
Despite the current recession in Germany and a reluctance by investors to invest in luxury goods, many of the works of art on sale at the fair have already been sold, according to the fair's organisors.
More than ever before
Klaus Brenden, from Gallery Benden&Klimczak in Cologne says the trend has much to do with the recent slump on the stock market.
"In better stock market days, people only partly invested in art. Now many investors are turning their backs on stock markets and focusing more on art," Brenden says.
But this trend is not just a German phenomenon. "There are nouveau riche people all over the place who have lost a lot of money on the markets. Now they’ve realized it's a good thing to invest their money in art", David Juda from the Gallery Annely Juda in London says.
Susanne Ottenson from the Galeri Susanne Ottenson in Copenhagen agrees. "As far as I can see, companiesacross Scandinavia are investing more in art than ever before. I can only explain this trend with the current stock market situation".
But buyers are becoming increasingly choosy in what they buy. Medium quality art is losing out to higher quality masterpieces.
"The art market 2002 has two faces: High quality works are going for massive amounts, like never before", Schultz says.
Cheaper pieces are less in demand. With the current economic climate in Germany, "more and more small private companies and freelancers simply have less money to spend," he goes on.
In line with demand, this year's 'Art Cologne' has numerous pricey, high-class masterpieces on offer. One highlight is Chagall's "Le Village en Fete", a colourful painting of a village scene which is expected to reach 2.5 million euro.
In addition, works by former Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer are up for sale for around 200 000 euro each and an early piece by the renowned German painter Max Ernst is expected to reach 1.1 million euro.
More modern, yet established art on show in Cologne includes works by the late Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida and a construction using rafters by minimalist Carl Andre which is expected to reach some 215 000 euro.
Young art still a chance
But with the number of works by well-established artists on show at the fair, will young and cheaper art remain ignored?
Gallery owner Michael Janssen from Cologne thinks not. "Buyers disappointed in the markets buy mainly expensive works, because they think they are on the safe side. But young artists also profit: People invest in young art, because they assume they have nothing to lose".
Both Janssen and Schultz from Cologne are positive the current art fair will be a success for both the established and the younger, less known art scene: Last year Schultz sold more art than any other gallery, including an oil painting by Georg Baselitz for 560 000 euro and 20 works by Berlin-based young shooting star Norbert Bisky, at prices between 9 000 and 19 000 euro.
But despite an overall rosy outlook, there is still a certain reticence on the part of both the organisers and the participants to show too much enthusiasm. Five years ago, 360 galleries took part, this year the number has been reduced by the fair's organisers to 260. But, according to Karsten Greve, spokesman of the registration commission at the show, only a small fair is a good one: "We don't want (visitors) to drag themselves home, dead tired", he says. "We want them to have fun – and in particular, to take something home".