Contemporary art sale in NY sees more big prices

Tue May 11, 2010 11:13pm EDT
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Collectors spent big money at Christie's postwar and contemporary art auction on Tuesday, led by Jasper Johns' pop art painting "Flag" from a collection that had belonged to best-selling author Michael Crichton, which sold for a record $28.64 million.

The $232 million total from the auction, including commission, marked the third consecutive night at which Christie's and rival Sotheby's met or exceeded pre-sale estimates for the annual spring sales. Of the 79 lots on offer, only five failed to sell.

Crichton's collection, one of the season's star estate sales, soared to $93.3 million -- half again the pre-sale estimate -- and achieved the highest ever total for a post-war collection, officials said.

While foreign buying has helped drive the market's recovery, nearly three-quarters of the buyers were American, as expected for what Christie's described as "a quintessentially American sale."

Amy Cappellazzo, Christie's international co-head of post-war and contemporary art, said the market, seemingly well on its way to recovery, now seemed "more sober."

"There's not this irrational exuberance," she said, comparing it to the late years of the boom before the economic crash in 2008. "It's strong, but selective."

Well-heeled collectors showed enthusiasm, and readiness to pay, for rare works like Johns' "Flag" and Andy Warhol's "Silver Liz," which fetched more than $18 million.

"Flag" one of several painted between 1960 and 1966, sold for nearly twice the high estimate, smashing the artist's auction record but falling short of the record for any living artist.   Continued...