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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Christie's held the biggest art auction in history on Wednesday, selling $853 million worth of contemporary and post-war art, led by a pair of Andy Warhol works featuring multiple images of Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando.
The impressive haul beat Christie's high pre-sale estimate of $836 million. It was the fourth successive time since May 2013 that the auction house's post-war and contemporary sale broke the record for the highest-ever total of a single sale.
A bidding war drove Warhol's "Triple Elvis (Ferus Type)" to $81.9 million, while "Four Marlons" fetched $69.6 million to lead the sale of 80 works in a packed saleroom where only five works failed to find buyers.
Christie's had estimated the silkscreen-on-linen Warhols would together sell for more than $130 million, which turned out to be conservative in the intensely competitive market.
"This is a market driven by global collectors who are looking for the best of the best," said Brett Gorvy, international head of post-war and contemporary art.
"More than about records, it's about five, six or seven buyers competing to spend 50 or 60 million dollars on an object."
A new record was set for Cy Twombly, when an untitled 1970 work soared far beyond the $35 million to $55 million estimate to $69.6 million, more than tripling the old record.
Records were also set for Ed Ruscha, Martin Kippenberger and Cindy Sherman at the blockbuster sale, which capped two weeks of key fall auctions for powerhouses Christie's and Sotheby's.
Other highlights included Francis Bacon's "Seated Figure," which fetched $45 million or just above the low estimate, and Ruscha's "Smash," which sold for $30.4 million, more than twice the low estimate. Estimates do not include commission of just over 12 percent.
In all 11 works sold for more than $20 million each and records were set for 15 artists among 42 represented.
With participation from 43 countries, bidding was especially strong from European, Asian and Mideast collectors, in addition to U.S. buyers, Christie's said.
Christie's had set the record for the biggest auction total in history in May, when its contemporary sale hauled in $745 million, but Wednesday's record quelled any doubts whether the art market's top-tier bubble might soon burst.
The two weeks of sales at Christie's and Sotheby's took in a total of some $2 billion.
Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Clarence Fernandez