Sotheby's contemporary art sale defies worst fears

Wed Nov 12, 2008 10:43am EST
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sotheby's achieved a respectable result on Tuesday at its contemporary art auction, held amid a stumbling market struggling to hold on to at least some of its gains from recent years.

The sale, at which the majority of successful bidders were American, took in $125 million, including commission, against a low estimate of $200 million, a benchmark established before the September onset of the crisis gripping world financial markets.

Records were set for Philip Guston, John Currin and Richard Serra as 68 percent of the 63 lots on offer found buyers -- to the relief of Sotheby's officials.

"We're very happy with what happened tonight," said Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art who also served as auctioneer.

"You saw tonight a seasoned, smart collecting community," said Meyer, adding he was personally thanked afterward for demonstrating there was still a market for fine art.

The sale's bidding and prices improved on last week's spotty Impressionist and modern results, defying some analysts' expectations the contemporary market could suffer a more acute correction, given the tremendous price spikes of recent seasons.

Sotheby's and rival Christie's have been encouraging sellers in recent weeks to adjust their expectations and lower reserves -- the secret minimum price at which they will sell at auction -- and the strategy seemed mostly to have worked on Tuesday.

Bidders responded to lower prices and "did not sit on their hands," Meyer said.   Continued...

<p>Yves Klein's Archisponge RE 11 from 1960 is seen during a press preview at Sotheby's in New York October 29, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>