NY auctions end with solid contemporary art result

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The spring art sales ended on a strong note at Christie’s on Wednesday when the auction house sold an impressive $93.7 million worth of contemporary and post-war art amid a vastly scaled-down market, with new records set for David Hockney and several other artists.

More than 90 percent of the 54 lots on offer found buyers, 30 of them selling for more than $1 million. The $93,734,500 total including commission approached the high pre-sale estimate of $104.5 million.

“It felt like a year ago,” said Amy Cappellazzo, Christie’s international co-head of contemporary and post-war art, even though the spring 2008 sale brought in more than three times Wednesday’s total.

“We saw broad, deep bidding on a global level,” she said.

Both Christie’s and rival Sotheby’s have struggled with an art market which, like many commodities globally, has seen exponential price drops in just six months.

Officials at both houses said it had been extremely challenging to convince owners to sell when prices are falling, resulting in markedly smaller sales. Keeping estimates conservative, they also worked to get sellers to adjust their reserves -- the minimum price at which they are willing to sell.

But Christie’s executives said the strong showing Wednesday night, which met and even exceeded expectations and saw nearly three-quarters of its offerings snapped up by U.S. buyers, spoke to the market’s vigor and its acceptance of the new reality.

Christie’s Americas president Marc Porter said the high percentage of works sold, both in numbers and dollar value, was akin to that of “the biggest boom years,” despite the season’s vastly smaller sales and lower prices.

“This market has adjusted and it’s extremely active,” Porter, reflecting on the two weeks of sales, told Reuters.

“When objects are properly estimated, we see these unexpected bidding wars and record prices. It’s a matter of finding the right pricing level.”

The sale’s top lot, as expected, was Hockney’s “Beverly Hills Housewife,” which sold for $7,922,500, in the middle of its pre-sale estimate and a record for Hockney.

Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park No. 117” fetched $6,578,500, beating its high estimate, as did Roy Lichtenstein’s “Frolic,” which sold for $6 million.

Other artists seeing strong prices were Alexander Calder and Willem de Kooning, whose “Woman” soared to $3.666 million, or more than twice the high estimate. A new record was also set for Claes Oldenburg, while works by Diebenkorn and Eric Fischl fell just shy of their auction records.

Editing by Jackie Frank