Warhol silkscreen soars above $43 million at Sotheby's

NEW YORK Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:29pm EST

Christie's auction house is seen at Rockefeller Center in New York October 29, 2009. REUTERS/Chip East

Christie's auction house is seen at Rockefeller Center in New York October 29, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Chip East

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Andy Warhol's monumental silkscreen "200 One Dollar Bills" sold for $43.76 million at Sotheby's contemporary art auction on Wednesday, quelling fears that deep-pocketed collectors remain skittish during the weak economy.

The 1962 Warhol painting, which sold for more than four times the estimate, became the second-highest price at auction for the late pop artist.

The auction totaled an astonishing $134.4 million in sales including commission, exceeding the estimate by more than 50 percent as bidders snapped up all but two of the 54 lots.

Records were set for several other artists, including Jean Dubuffet.

Saying collectors had responded to a "recalibrated market," Sotheby's head of contemporary art Tobias Meyer noted the strong results showed that "after a year of not buying ... collectors have started buying again."

"The desire to have great things will make (them) step up and pay more than $40 million" for a work of art, Meyer said.

Baird Ryan, managing partner of the art-related financial services firm Art Capital Group that had expressed reservations ahead of the fall auctions, said "there is more money on the sidelines, and the patient players will ultimately contribute significantly to the art market's recovery."

"Overall, the results this season are a surprise to the upside," Ryan added.

Like the sale a day before at Christie's, the bidding was spirited in a packed salesroom, with works going for well above estimates that the auction houses worked to keep conservative.

Another high-profile Warhol, a self portrait the artist gave to a teenager at The Factory in the 1960s, fetched $6.13 million, four times the high estimate.

Cathy Naso had stashed the work in a closet for some 40 years. She said she was overwhelmed by the price and the attention the painting had received, expressing gratitude for the "15 minutes" Warhol had given her.

The sale was the best result in two weeks of solid sales at Sotheby's and Christie's that mostly met or exceeded expectations.

Strong prices were seen for Jasper Johns, whose "Gray Numbers" fetched $8.7 million, and Jean Dubuffet, who set a new record when "Trinite-Champs-Elysees" sold for $6,130,500.

Records were also set for Alice Neel, Juan Munoz and Germaine Richier, as well as for a Jackson Pollock work on paper and a Willem de Kooning sculpture.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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