Christie's contemporary sale is biggest auction in history

Thu May 16, 2013 12:19am EDT
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The spring auctions ended on a record-shattering high on Wednesday as Christie's contemporary art sale achieved the highest total - $495 million - in the history of art auctions.

Artists' records fell one after another, led by Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose works each soared to anywhere from about $49 million to $58 million.

Only four of the 70 lots on offer, or 6 percent, went unsold as the auction took in a whopping $495,021,500 including commission, easily beating even the high pre-sale estimate of just over $400 million.

"We are in a new era of the art market," said Jussi Pylkkanen, president and chairman of Christie's Europe, who also served as auctioneer. "There is global competition that we have never seen in the art world before."

The record-breaking sale's top lot was Pollock's "Number 19, 1948," one of the artist's seminal drip paintings, which fetched $58.4 million, or nearly twice the pre-sale estimate.

Lichtenstein's "Woman with Flowered Hat," which was expected to sell in excess of $30 million, instead soared to $56.1 million, while Basquiat's "Dustheads" went for $48.8 million.

All three works set new records for the blue-chip artists, with Basquiat's nearly doubling the old mark.

Officials said the stellar result was driven by the top-quality individual works on offer and important private collections, notably the assemblage of the late singer Andy Williams.   Continued...

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