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The shift was just one of the developments to emerge at the conference, which coincided with the publication of art insurance specialists Aon’s investment survey.

It showed a rush to invest in gold as confidence in the property market declined, but also showed art and antiques holding up well as an alternative asset class.

At the conference, Mr Willette lifted the lid further on current thinking among the hedge fund class, telling delegates that the emphasis now was on bringing in more “expert opinion” – presumably an acknowledgement that art market price trends do not follow the stock market model.

New funds were emerging, but he said that there was no dominant fund at the moment.

He also felt that the market was due for a correction and that there were people already lining up to take advantage of this.

Delegates argued over whether the boom in contemporary art was just a bubble that would soon burst. One school of thought was that, with a broader investor base consisting of people who were looking for somewhere to park their cash, the market was safer than in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when much of the money invested at the top end of the art market was borrowed, so liquidity should not prove such an issue.

Following last week’s ATG report on Alistair Ashford’s survey of online price indexes, we sent its author to report on the conference. He found that there was concern over the lack of easily accessible and sufficient market data, particularly in the primary market. Other concerns were raised over transparency in the marketplace and even insider trading.

Dr Clare McAndrew, author of the latest TEFAF study on the global art market, spoke on the Chinese contemporary art phenomenon. China had moved into third place behind the US and the UK by 2007 with 7.3 per cent of the contemporary art market – France had 6.4 per cent.

She estimated that there were approximately 5000 listed art and antique dealers working in China now, with more than 100 licensed auction houses in China and Hong Kong.

Key to the future of the Chinese contemporary art market was that the best Chinese art is no longer in China and the competition between those wanting to repatriate it will send prices sky-high.

Dr McAndrew also felt that Indian confidence had been hit badly by recent economic woes, but that support for the modern and contemporary markets was still on the rise there.

Speakers identified Iran and Syria as possible emerging sources of talent, but the artists coming from these countries remain extremely small in number.