"A dozen very rich clients can make a very big difference," he said.
The Mei Moses All Art index, which tracks publicly sold art, reported a more than 13 percent return for the first half of 2010, a sharp reversal of the nearly 30 percent decline in 2009.
"It's a much more dynamic market, and it gets back to the geographic element, which has been extraordinary," said Baird Ryan, managing director of the private financial and consulting services firm Art Capital Group.
"It's not just U.S., Wall Street and European buying anymore."
With $800 million to more than $1 billion worth of art on the block over two weeks, kicking off on Tuesday, the auction houses are poised to enjoy the global market after a rocky 2009 when they curtailed auctions and cut staff, he said.
Even distant No. 3, Phillips de Pury, is staging an $80 million postwar and contemporary sale, its biggest ever.
Christie's is counting on well-heeled new blood to compete for big-ticket offerings such as Roy Lichtenstein's "Ohhh ... Alright," which is poised to bring owner Steve Wynn some $40 million, more than twice the artist's auction record.
"These guys are really new to the market," Ryan said, referring to super-rich collectors from Russia, India, China and Hong Kong, and the Mideast.
"Culturally they're huge gamblers and they love the action of the auctions, which have become incredible social events. So they just go for it," he said.
Editor: Feng Hui