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YSL collection in 'auction of the century'

"The time has come to dissolve this collection," said Pierre Bergé, long-time companion of Yves Saint Laurent, after the iconic designer passed away last June as the designer's 300-million-euro collection goes under the hammer.


If Monday's auction of Yves Saint Laurent's spectacular artcollection, as expected, fetches at least 200 million euros (250 million dollars), it will set a record for a private collection -- and give the depressed art market a needed shot in the arm.

Experts believe the collection amassed by the designer and his partner Pierre Berge could even hit the higher estimate, or more, set by auctioneers Christie's -- 300 million euros (380 million dollars).

"It's a fantastic show, a really good piece of promotion for the market", London art dealer Ian Mackenzie said at a public showing of the works this weekend, ahead of the February 23-25 sale.

"They got fantastic press, they'll do well, and that will bring confidence back."

The last record for a private collection was set in New York in 1997 with the sale of the Victor and Sally Ganz collection, which fetched 163 million euros (207 million dollars).

While a handful of record sales cheered the market over the last months, times have been monotonously bleak on the auction front, with much-hyped contemporary works in free-fall, and even headline artists such as Francis Bacon failing to find buyers.

The Saint Laurent/Berge sale, a mammoth event with eight auctioneers working in shifts during the three-day sale, 100 telephone lines installed, and seating for 1,200 buyers, could reverse the slump.

Up for grabs at the auction at Paris's vast Grand Palais are 732 works collected by Berge and Saint Laurent over half a century to grace their city homes and country hideaways.

From contemporary oils by Picasso, Mondrian and Matisse, to Old Masters, Art Deco pieces and antique bronzes, Christie's says the collection is unique for its eclectic crossover of styles, and exquisite taste.

"They may not be record-breaking, but the quality is extraordinary," Joanathan Rendell, deputy chairman of Christie's Americas, told AFP.

"Every single area of the collection has got the best of its type," he said. "Really fantastic modern pictures, great Renaissance bronzes. The sheer quality is the thing that really takes the breath away."

Along with the quality art were the names of the celebrity collectors, cultural icons Saint Laurent and Berge. "People are very proud of what these two men have achieved and very proud of the collection."

A Christie's competitor, who asked not to be named, told AFP he believed the works were magnificent, the prices right, and the auction likely to be a success.

"It will restore the market," he said. "People will understand that art is a good long-term investment, that works such as these turn a profit over 20 or 30 years, and that buying art is also buying pieces you can live with and enjoy, just as Berge and Saint Laurent did."

Leaving no stone unturned, Christie's toured star pieces to potential buyers in New York, London and Brussels. Some 600 high-end buyers and museums able to afford some of the more prestigious multi-million-dollar works were offered private viewings inside the late Saint Laurent's apartment ahead of the sale.

"It is all blue-chip," said Georgina Adam, who writes for UK-based The Art Newspaper. "It's very high quality ... It will probably do well."

There were still big collectors in the United States and elsewhere, she said, though Russian buyers were feeling the pinch. "The money is there if something really exceptional comes up."

But given the economic slowdown, the sale "won't change the fortunes of the art market," she said. "It's one-off, it's an exception because of the people involved, they are mythical and had a fantastic eye."

If successful, the auction however would have a knock-on effect by underlining the fact that art had a lasting investment value.

"It may also revive interest in collecting bronzes and enamels such as those in the Berge/Saint Laurent collection."


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