Richter painting breaks record for living artist at N.Y. auction

NEW YORK Wed May 15, 2013 5:10pm EDT

Sotheby's New York image shows a 1968 oil painting by German artist Gerhard Richter titled ''Domplatz, Mailand'' in this handout released on May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Sotheby's New York/Handout via Reuters

Sotheby's New York image shows a 1968 oil painting by German artist Gerhard Richter titled ''Domplatz, Mailand'' in this handout released on May 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Sotheby's New York/Handout via Reuters

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 1968 oil painting by German artist Gerhard Richter sold for some $37 million at Sotheby's contemporary art auction on Tuesday, a new record for a work by a living artist.

The sale took in $293,587,000, at the low end of the pre-sale estimate of $284 million to $383 million, with 83 percent of the 64 lots on offer finding buyers.

It featured some big numbers with five works selling for more than $20 million. But results were uneven as offerings by such contemporary stars such as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons either underperformed or failed to sell.

Barnett Newman's "Onement VI," a vibrant blue work from 1953 being sold by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, fetched the top price - $43,845,000 including commission. It set a record for the artist, beating the high estimate of $40 million.

But it was the 81-year-old Richter's "Domplatz, Mailand (Cathedral Square, Milan)," offered by the Hyatt Hotels Corp., which broke the record already held by Richter for a work at auction by a living artist. It sold for $37,125,000, near the middle of the $30 million to $40 million estimate.

Tobias Meyer, head of Sotheby's contemporary art department who also served as auctioneer, called the price "a major accomplishment."

The work, which Sotheby's sold about 15 years ago for about $3.5 million, was bought by collector Don Bryant, founder of Napa's Bryant Family Vineyard. He pumped his fist in the air as the hammer came down with his winning bid.

"This just knocks me over," he said of the work, which depicts a cityscape rendered in a style that suggests a blurred photograph, after the sale.

"I just love it ... . I just love art," Bryant, founder and chairman emeritus of St. Louis employee benefits firm the Bryant Group, told Reuters.

But the auction also had some big hiccups, notably Francis Bacon's "Study for Portrait of P.L.," which carried an estimate of $30 million and $40 million but failed to attract even a glimmer of interest.

One of Koons' signature "readymades," a sculpture featuring four Hoover vacuum cleaners estimated at $10 million to $15 million, went down when bidding fell shy of the reserve - the secret minimum price at which a consigner agrees to sell a work.

Other highlights included Yves Klein's "Sponge Sculpture Blue, SE 168," which sold for $22 million, and Clyfford Still's "PH-21," which fetched $20.9 million, both works selling for prices in line with their estimates.

Jackson Pollock's "Blue Unconscious" went for $20.9 million, a bargain considering the $20 million to $30 million estimate (estimates do not include commission, which runs just over 12 percent).

The auctions continue on Wednesday with Christie's sale of post-war and contemporary art.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

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