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Web Exclusive: Art portfolio a smart investment?

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(CNN) - If you're in the market for fine art, maybe you'd fancy something like Pablo Picasso's "Still Life with Tulips."  It could fetch as much as $50-million dollars when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby's next month. 

While that's far out of reach for most of us, art - as an investment - has held up well over time.  Art has competed with-- and even beaten-- stock market returns.  But given the current economic picture, should a portrait be in your investment portfolio?

Chairman Mao with Windscreen Wipers, 13th century gargoyles, retro televisions and a grand master, a Picasso-- for the first time in its 10 year history-- London's Frieze Art Fair is mixing the contemporary with the ancient, the cutting edge with the historical.  

"When we launched the fair in London a lot of galleries came to us that showed historical material-- and said "we love your fair, but actually it doesn't really cover the things we are interested in.  We thought okay, maybe there's an opportunity here," says Amanda Sharp
Co-Founder, Frieze Art Fair.

Plenty of opportunity too for more than 170 exhibitors showcasing and selling their works of art.  For them, this is a cultural platform and more importantly, an economic opportunity. 
  
"There was a very frothy market before the crash so without question there has been some kind of a stepping back--  a quieting down, a reconsideration of how things were. What's extraordinary to most people outside of the art world is that the market is still going strong.  The galleries haven't been closing, the fairs are doing people, that people are still buying art," says Sharp.

And art is not in short supply here.  According to reports, a record $1.5 billion  dollars worth of art is being exhibited this fair.  Not a problem because pockets here run deep and the buyers are often anonymous.  Within just  10 minutes of the fair opening, a Paul McCarthy sculpture was reportedly sold for over one million dollars.  A Damien Hirst painting reportedly cost $800 thousand dollars and a Picasso, initially priced at $8.5 million dollars was among the early sales.  

Amanda Sharp says those investing in art are mostly from emerging economies, South Asia and Eastern Europe.  "If you buy an art work as an investment, it's an investment of love, so you can always live with it if you love it, whether the price or value change becomes to some degree irrelevant. But by the same token, it's a tiny market, and it's an exciting world and as the world changes in general, and people begin to be more curious, art is a really interesting place to go and as a result, more and more people are considering it from perspective collecting. So we are seeing a very small world, growing and growing and growing. And we feel there's extraordinaire opportunity for quite radical growth within that."

Even beyond this fair, buyers are throwing millions of dollars at works of art just down the road on Bond street.  An art dealer is selling over 100 million dollars worth of German and Austrian art and a few blocks away from there, Sotheby's is auctioning a single painting worth up to $19 million dollars.  With numbers like those, it's a market that looks truly picture perfect.

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