BASEL, Switzerland - The largest international contemporary art fair opened yesterday, closely watched for trends in the world market at a time of financial turbulence.
About 60,000 artists, collectors, gallery representatives and art enthusiasts are expected to attend the annual four-day Art Basel fair, with the moneyed set arriving in private jets.
Record prices at recent auctions indicate the market is still resilient despite the credit crunch stemming from the subprime crisis.
More than 300 of the world's leading galleries are presenting works from more than 2,000 artists from all five continents, demonstrating that globalization has extended to art - a work on display, by Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, shows a woman dancing on the globe.
Prices range from millions of dollars for works of established artists to thousands for pieces by newcomers.
On view are all forms of artistic expression: paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, performances and video art. Big names include several who fetched new record prices at a Sotheby's auction in New York last month, when a triptych by Francis Bacon sold for $86.3 million, becoming the most expensive work of contemporary art ever auctioned.
Record prices were also registered there for other artists on display at Art Basel, including Japan's star Murakami Takashi; Robert Rauschenberg, who died last month; and Tom Wesselman.
Works by Cai Guo-Qiang, the Chinese favorite of Western collectors, are also on view. His series of gunpowder drawings was bought for $8.5 million at Christie's in Hong Kong late last year.
As the fair opened, the Allianz Suisse insurance company said the demand for coverage to protect private collections has grown 30 percent since the February theft of four impressionist paintings worth $163 million from a Zurich museum.
"Despite the financial market crisis and high energy prices, the art market is still booming - as is the market for private art insurance," the company said.
The company's art expert, Oliver Class, said it had already reached its sales goal for the full year. Allianz Suisse also said it now is insuring collections for more than $624 million, up from about $240 million three years ago, and that it expected its business to double in the next three years.
Two of the paintings taken in the robbery, by Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh, were recovered a few days later. The other two - by Paul Cezanne and Edgar Degas - remain missing.
A parallel "Art Unlimited" exhibition features works by 60 artists from 23 countries.
It spotlights completely unconventional art, including some works created especially for the occasion, such as a dollar-covered wallpaper installation by American artist Tony Oursler.
The Art Basel newspaper reported that when Oursler crossed the nearby border between Germany and Switzerland, German customs officers discovered more than 1,000 dollar bills stuffed in his bag.
The daily said the officers counted every note to make sure that the booty did not exceed Germany's legal export limit of $10,000.