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'2012 Under the Hammer' Musings

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2012 might have had many people tightening their purse strings and worrying about the financial markets, but in reality there were few financial disasters, although for most of the world it was still a fairly dismal year. The slim and profitable pickings that proved to be highlights were firmly placed in the fields of alternative assets, particularly the art market which demonstrated astonishing resilience.

Fine art continued to command fabulous prices, setting many new world records. Topping the bill was Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' that sold for £74million in May. According to the well-known index Artprice.com, sales of fine art at auction had wracked up to £9billion just pre-Christmas and are projected to finish at £10billion once the final figures are in. The figures are a fraction down on 2011, but exceed those in 2010 and thus this is one of the highest grossing years for the art market.

Reading Georgina Adam's recent column in the FT as always gave some gold nuggets of market knowledge. It is perhaps unsurprising that the Post War and Contemporary markets proved particularly robust, both for reasons of fashion and desire as well of course as supply with fresh pieces still being pumped into the market. When an important Old or Modern Master comes to market it certainly causes a stir and high prices, but there is very little material not in institutions or private collections. The strong market has encouraged many more works to auction such as Francis Bacon's 1963 'Portrait of Henrietta Moraes' that sold for £21.3m in February, Mark Rothko's 'No1 (Royal Red and Blue)', 1954 that sold for $75.1m in New York in November and Raphael's 'Head of Apostle' drawing that sold at Sotheby's London for a record breaking £27.9m. In fact, nearly $1bn was spent on art in November despite the fact that the auctions took place when many of the galleries were flooded and minus power during the aftermath of the destructive hurricane Sandy.

Galleries and Art Fairs continued to grow with Frieze opening two new ventures; the first in New York and the other, a complimentary Modern and Old Master fair to run alongside Frieze London. In June, London continued to take centre stage as Masterpiece London attracted international clients flying in to buy important works of art and the art world's heavy hitters chose London to open new galleries: Zwirner, Pace, Skarstedt and Werner.

2013 looks set to be another exciting year for the arts with the first international auctions and art fairs all opening next week.