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  • Art from space gets sky-high prices
    14.04.2006 NEW YORK.
    By Pat MILTON

    A meteorite believed to have come from an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter has sold for $93,000 (U.S.) at an auction of rare space sculptures.

    The 355-pound chunk of iron, thousands of years old and discovered in the Campo del Cielo crater field in Argentina, was one of 10 meteorites that went for high prices at a Bonhams New York natural-history auction.

    Known by its place of discovery as the "Valley of the Sky" meteorite, the pristine item was purchased Tuesday by a private collector in the United States who bid by phone and plans to display it as a work of art, said Thomas Lindgren, acting director of the natural-history division for Bonhams auction house.

    "This is art, not from man, but from outer space," Lindgren said. The auction house had expected it to sell for between $40,000 and $50,000.

    "He was absolutely ecstatic," Lindgren said of the buyer. "There was no way he was going to walk away without it."

    The high bids reflect a soaring interest in meteorites not for their scientific value but their natural beauty. Lindgren said the bids for the space rocks come mainly from private art collectors and interior designers.

    "They have found their place in the art marketplace," Lindgren said.

    The meteorites came from the Macovich Collection, considered the finest collection of aesthetic meteorites in the world. Most sold above their estimated pre-auction values.

    A two-gram piece of the moon sold for $4,250, and a space rock found in Africa with a unique, naturally formed hole went for $42,000, nearly twice the presale estimate. The second-highest price for a meteorite at the auction was for one with naturally occurring glittering gemstones. It sold for $11,950.

    One of the auction's featured extraterrestrial items was a tiny slice from the Willamette meteorite, which sold for $12,000.

    The Willamette is North America's largest meteorite, deposited before the end of the last ice age and discovered in Oregon in 1902. The entire 14-tonne Willamette was purchased in 1905 by Mrs. William E. Dodge for $26,000 and sold in 1906 to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it remains on display.

    Such rare items have gained aesthetic attention over the last decade. "Beyond matters of the soul, the inspiration for most art is in nature," said Darryl Pitt, primary owner and curator of the Macovich Collection. "For me, aesthetic meteorites are the closest [thing] to being able to behold that which is in the heavens."

    The market for meteorites has skyrocketed over the last decade as demand has increased and the rocks have become rarer. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg and Sheik Saud bin Mohammed al-Thani of Qatar are among the avid collectors of space sculptures, said Pitt.

    But while meteorites have penetrated the art market, Pitt said the public should not lose track of the scientific contribution meteorites play in the understanding of the solar system and the origin of life itself.

    "It is not only a beautiful object, but it transcends that which we know and are familiar," said Pitt. "It is otherworldly, and to me that is something romantic and fantastic."