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Five thousand years of art and artefacts for sale at Cultura

"Iris and Achilles" relief on sale at Cultura.

(Keystone)

Basel's international art and antiques fair is this week offering the public a chance to see - and buy - artefacts collected over the past 5,000 years.

Leading dealers from Europe and the United States are present at the annual fair - Cultura - which is expected to generate millions. It includes classical antiquities from ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, along with a selection of Asian art.

All the items on display had to undergo a strict vetting procedure by the organisers before the fair began. "Some exhibitors were not happy about this," says Cultura president, Bernhard Hammer, "but our goal is to keep the quality very high."

Hammer believes the fair will generate total sales worth up to SFr30 million ($17 million) - "and that's a conservative estimate" - before it ends next Saturday.

Present for the first time at Cultura are staff from the Art Loss Register, who check the provenance of every item valued at over Sfr25,000.

Its chairman, Julian Radcliffe, told swissinfo that dealers and private collectors had become much more careful in recent years.

"We now attend all the major fairs, and check over 250,000 items a year. Normally at each event we find one or two which have been stolen, but usually the item was offered to a dealer by someone who had bought it in good faith, therefore the dealer would not have been suspicious."

Not all the items are for sale. Cultura also features a special exhibition of Tibetan art and culture. Entitled "Buddhas, Gods and Tibetan Saints" it includes objects on public display for the first time all of them recently acquired by Basel's Culture Museum.

by Richard Dawson


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