Customers stand in a gallery displaying art for auction at Christie's International Plc in King Street, London, U.K., on Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Photographer: Simon Dawson
INTERNATIONAL - Christie’s, which is holding auctions of watches and post-war and contemporary art this week in Dubai, expects to build on a “strong art market” this year, with the Middle East playing a “very important” role, Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Cerutti said.

“Let’s say the basics are very positive and we are on very strong and safe grounds this year,” Cerutti said Wednesday in an interview.

Last year, Christie’s sales of art and collectibles rose 26 percent with auction sales up 38 percent, led by Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” soaring to a record $450 million in November. The 500-year-old painting of Christ was acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The Middle East is “without a doubt a very important part of today’s art market,” Cerutti said. The bidding for the Da Vinci painting proves “the Middle East is a major player.”