ZURICH (Reuters) -Art dealers, collectors and gallery owners from around the world wrapped up several multi-million dollar deals in brisk trade at an annual art fair in the Swiss city of Basel this week, despite a slowdown in the global art market.

Deals at the fair - widely seen as a barometer of global art demand - included the $20-million purchase of a painting by 20th-century American artist Joan Mitchell on the opening day and the sale of a drawing by fellow abstract expressionist Arshile Gorky for $16 million.

The global art market shrank 4% to $65 billion last year, according to the 2024 UBS Global Art Market Report, and the value of sales in the latest New York auction season fell more than 20%.

Against that backdrop, organisers of the Basel fair said sales at the event had come as a relief to gallery owners.

"There's an exhale collectively for many in the halls about where the market is," said Noah Horowitz, chief executive of Art Basel, adding that buyers remained more sensitive to pricing than during boom years.

"Great art and ambitious art will ... continue to sell," he said. "But I think it's a fool's errand to try to crystal ball gaze with so many factors, economically, geopolitically ... in the world right now."

Many gallery owners said sales had exceeded their expectations.

Isabella Kairis Icoz, a partner at Lehmann Maupin, a gallery with branches in New York, Seoul, London and Milan, said they had sold 15 works with collectors and museums on the first day.

"I came in slightly cautious ... but Basel has been a true testament to its resilience," Icoz said, adding that the gallery had seen particularly strong interest from European private collectors.

James Koch, partner at the Hauser & Wirth gallery which was showing works from the secondary market and pieces by contemporary artists, said he had seen a number of young and informed European collectors buying.

"Not only the ones with the larger budgets but also people starting to collect," he said.

Two scenarios typically emerge in the art market in times of global economic and political uncertainty, said Clare McAndrew, author of the Art Market Report.

"Buyers can hold back, which they did last year, or they can start to anchor on safe works, which is what they might do this year," she said.

(Reporting by Noele IllienEditing by Helen Popper and Tomasz Janowski)

By Noele Illien