Sotheby's rebounds with a steady sale of contemporary art

Wed May 11, 2016 11:38pm EDT
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By Chris Michaud

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."   Continued...