Basquiat record set in solid result for Christie's contemporary art auction

Tue May 10, 2016 11:52pm EDT
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Jean-Michel Basquiat self portrait soared to an artist's record $57.3 million on Tuesday to help Christie's to a solid result for an auction of contemporary art held amid an art market gripped by uncertainty.

Basquiat's large, vibrant, untitled work from 1982 had been estimated to sell for about $40 million but two determined telephone bidders drove the final price to break the late artist's auction record by $8.5 million.

The sale took in a total of $318.4 million, well within the pre-sale estimate of about $280 million-$390 million. Only eight of the 60 works on offer failed to sell.

The Basquiat record was especially significant in the current cautious climate, which follows years of soaring prices.

Both Christie's and rival Sotheby's have assembled markedly smaller spring sales this week, with no works carrying estimates much beyond $40 million. By comparison, several works broke the $100 million-mark in recent seasons.

Jussi Pylkkanen, the global president of Christie's who also served as auctioneer, spoke of "a market where people are questioning price levels."

"We got a lot of competition when objects were priced (estimated) at 80 percent of their value," he told Reuters.

A packed salesroom showed obvious relief, responding with applause and cheers as the hammer came down on the Basquiat.   Continued...