Activity, prices bounce back at Sotheby's auction

Wed Nov 4, 2009 11:22pm EST
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - If there is distress in the art market, it was not on view at Sotheby's on Wednesday as the auction house sold more than $180 million worth of Impressionist and modern art at a sale exceeding even the most optimistic expectations.

A night after a smaller sale at rival Christie's fell short, Sotheby's saw 85 percent of the 66 works on offer finding buyers and took in $181,760,000 including commission, some 10 percent above the high pre-sale estimate.

Officials said it was the first time since May 2006, in the midst of an unprecedented art market boom, that one of its Impressionist sales exceeded the high estimate.

Throughout the sale, at which five lots each sold for more than $10 million, bidding was competitive, prices beat expectations and a few records even fell.

"This was a real shot in the arm for the art market," said senior vice president Simon Shaw. "It was a real vote of confidence."

Using conservative estimates, Shaw said the sale demonstrated there was still a "great appetite" for quality works when they are "attractively priced."

Applause broke out at the sale's end, with Sotheby CEO Bill Ruprecht joining in from the sidelines.

The top lot was Giacometti's "L'homme qui Chavire," a 1951 bronze that soared to $19,346,500, or more than half-again its high estimate, after a protracted bidding war among six would-be buyers.   Continued...