May 12, 2016 / 3:42 AM / a year ago

Sotheby's rebounds with a steady sale of contemporary art

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cheers of relief rang out on Wednesday as the hammer fell on the last lot of Sotheby’s contemporary and post-war art auction, which met expectations and helped dim the memory of its shaky Impressionist and modern art sale just 48 hours earlier.

Led by a $35 million Francis Bacon self portrait study and a $36.7 million Cy Twombly canvas, the sale took in $242.2 million, well within the pre-sale estimate range. Just two of 44 works on offer failed to sell.

Neither of the two star lots had ever been auctioned, bearing out the prevailing wisdom that despite uncertain times, top quality works fresh to the market can perform well. The Bacon beat its high estimate, though the Twombly fell just short.

Driven in part by what Sotheby’s said was its highest-ever number of registered bidders from Asia, the sale saw spirited and competitive bidding both in the salesroom and via telephone.

A record was set for Sam Francis, whose “Summer #1” fetched $11.8 million, just shy of its high estimate.

Most lots sold for within or above estimates, and Sotheby’s officials were clearly pleased.

“It was a fundamentally different room” from those seen at many top-tier sales of late, said Oliver Barker, Sotheby‘s’ deputy chairman Europe, who served as auctioneer.

“Sustained bidding from colleagues in Asia as well as Europe and the U.S.” helped drive the result, added Grégoire Billault, New York head of contemporary art, who noted that the sale was tailored “to the market’s current taste.”

Sotheby’s announced that two lots, including an untitled work by Christopher Wool which sold for $13.9 million and achieved the night’s fourth-highest price, were bought by Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa.

On Wednesday Christie’s identified Maezawa as the buyer who paid a record-setting price for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untitled self-portrait, which soared to $57.3 million against an estimate of about $40 million.

The collector also spent heavily on Adrian Ghenie’s “Self Portrait as Vincent Van Gogh,” paying $2.6 million for a work estimated at just $200,000 to $300,000.

Other highlights included an untitled Alexander Calder mobile which soared to $8.3 million including Sotheby‘s’ commission of just over 12 percent, more than double its high estimate. A late Twombly, “Bacchus 1st version V,” went for $15.4 million.

The spring sales wrap up on Thursday with Christie’s auction of Impressionist and modern art.

Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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