An $82 million Rothko leads Christie's $659 million contemporary art sale

Thu May 14, 2015 1:01pm EDT
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mark Rothko's muted-hued canvas "No. 10" soared to $81.9 million on Wednesday, leading Christie's marathon sale of post-war and contemporary art, which took in $658.5 million and set new records for several major artists.

The sale of 82 works, or about 25 percent more than usual, approached its high pre-sale estimate of $687 million, and saw just 12 percent of its offerings left unsold.

It was the week's second big result for the auction house, following Monday's special sale which set new records for the highest prices paid for a single work of art, as well as for any sculpture.

The three top lots each sold for more than $50 million, with three others fetching more than $35 million. New records were set for Robert Ryman and Robert Rauschenberg.

"What we're seeing is a very knowledgeable market, and in some cases with buyers who have had a very quick education," said Brett Gorvy, Christie's' head of post-war and contemporary art.

Officials at both Christie's and rival Sotheby's concur that the recent art boom has been driven at least in part by deep-pocketed clients who have been collecting for only a few years.

So it might have been surprising that Rothko's muted, somber-toned work, which carried a pre-sale estimate of $45 million, emerged the star.

With the top auction price of the past two weeks, apart from Monday's record setters, it also fell just short of Rothko's record.   Continued...