Saturday, June 18, 2005; Posted: 9:19 p.m. EDT (01:19 GMT)
BASEL, Switzerland (Reuters) -- Perhaps the oddest piece of work at Art Basel is a bar of soap, displayed on a square of black velvet, purportedly made from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's fat, removed during liposuction.
Gianni Monti's work called 'Clean Hands' -- the title is a play on the name of an anti-Mafia group -- sold in less than an hour for 15,000 euros ($18,000) to a private Swiss collector, according to Monti's Galerie Nicola von Senger of Zurich.
The work from the Swiss-based Italian has shock value with a twist, but Monti is not alone reveling in super-charged sales this week at Art Basel, the world's largest annual art fair where 275 dealers in modern and contemporary art display their wares making it a mecca for over 50,000 collectors and curators.
Prices are soaring for star-quality artists, topping levels charged for the old masters in a market that has an estimated $20 billion annual turnover, making veteran art experts wonder if this feeding frenzy can really last.
Not only do they buy for pleasure, they buy status.
"Art plays a role of social acceptance. You like it, but you also want to expose your personal environment to others. This creates a situation where there is an ongoing demand for good quality work to fulfil their dreams and their level of social acceptance," said Schweizer, whose bank has seen a steady increase in demand since it began art services in 1998.