November 15, 2012 / 4:50 AM / 5 years ago

Record sale of contemporary art as Christie's tops $400 million

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The art auctions ended with a big bang on Wednesday as Christie’s staged the most successful sale of post-war and contemporary art in history, taking in $412 million as new records were set for Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat and an Andy Warhol soared to $43.8 million.

It was a second night of blockbuster contemporary art results after rival Sotheby’s staged the most successful auction in its history, giving a much-needed shot of adrenaline to an art market that had been jittery since both houses held tepid sales of Impressionist and modern art last week.

Seven lots each sold for more than $20 million, several private collections saw every work on offer finding a buyer, and only six of the 73 works that hit the block went unsold.

Christie’s officials were thrilled after the auction, which totaled $412,253,100 including commission, just beating its high estimate, with 11 artist’s records set.

“This truly was an extraordinary sale,” said Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Russia who also served as auctioneer.

“Clearly there’s an enormous amount of energy in the post-war and contemporary market,” he said, adding “It’s highly likely that we’ll see a continuation of records being broken.”

While even the most successful auction feature just a handful of remarkable prices, one after another works by Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline - whose auction record of $9.3 million was smashed to $40.4 million - soared far beyond even the high estimates.

Warhol’s “Statue of Liberty,” a 3D silkscreen featuring multiple images of the iconic monument, fetched just over $43.7 million, easily beating the pre-sale estimate of $35 million.

Kline’s untitled abstract expressionist oil from 1957 soared far beyond the $20 million to $30 million estimate, as did Koons’ vivid, large-scale sculpture “Tulips,” which graced Christie’s Rockefeller Center entry plaza and carried the same estimate.

It sold for $33.7 million, easily beating Koons’ record of $25.8 million, and made the second-highest price ever achieved at auction by a living artist.

Basquiat’s untitled work from 1981 sold for $26.4 million, easily beating the old record of $20.1 million set in June.

Also noteworthy, officials said, was how strongly the sale’s various components, ranging from pop art to abstract expressionist to contemporary, performed.

Seminal works of pop art exceeded expectations, including Lichtenstein’s “Nude with Red Shirt,” estimated at about $15 million but selling for nearly twice that at $28.1 million, and Warhol’s Marlon Brando silkscreen which fetched $23.7 million and beat the high estimate.

Rothko’s abstract ”Red Stripe (Orange, Gold and Black) did just as well, selling for $23.4 million against a $20 million high estimate.

“It’s very difficult to cover that broad a spectrum,” Koji Inoue, Christie’s vice president and specialist in charge of the sale told Reuters, referring to works in the sale that dated from 1948 to just last year.

“It’s amazing that contemporary art has become blue-chip value,” he said, adding “I think we’re just seeing the beginning.”

About the only casualty was a Gerhard Richter being sold by hedge fund giant and noteworthy collector Steven Cohen, which was estimated at $9 million to $12 million but went unsold when bidding peaked at $8.8 million - a sign that Cohen was unwilling to lower his reserve, the secret minimum price at which the consignor agrees to sell, even slightly.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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