NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite the shaky performance of its top-priced works, Sotheby's sold $128 million worth of contemporary and post-war art on Tuesday, just above the $121 million low estimate.
Andy Warhol's "Sixteen Jackies" sold for $20.24 million including commission and Jeff Koons' iconic "Pink Panther" sculpture managed to brink in just under $16.9 million, but both works had been estimated to sell for $20 million to $30 million.
Estimates do not include commission, which is more than 12 percent.
The auctioneer's officials said they were pleased with the results from the auction that was held in Manhattan, while conceding that some estimates were high for a market that is still finding its way out of recession.
"Our estimates were possibly aggressive," said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art who also served as auctioneer.
But with 85 percent of the 58 lots on offer finding buyers, it was apparent that the auction house had worked with sellers to lower their reserves -- the undisclosed minimum price a seller is willing to accept.
As the sale approached, "we saw where things (in the market) were," Meyer said. "We did listen to the market," so works sold, if not always at levels originally anticipated.
Anthony Grant, senior international specialist for contemporary art, said Sotheby's tried to "take baby steps" out of the recession that sent prices plummeting in 2009.
But given the results for top-priced lots, "in some cases we anticipated a market that was not quite there yet."
The sale, a relatively somber affair largely devoid of the freewheeling atmosphere that prevailed in 2007 or during the almost giddy recovery that took hold last year, was not without highlights.
Warhol's "Shadow - Red" soared to $4.84 million, more than six times the $800,000 pre-sale estimate, while Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Eroica I" fetched a healthy $5.9 million, beating the high estimate of $4.5 million.
"We saw buying from all corners of the globe," Grant said.
On Monday, Sotheby's auctioned works from the collection of New York art dealer Allan Stone for $55 million, well above expectations and giving a needed boost to the spring auction season.
The auctions continue on Wednesday with Christie's sale of post-war and contemporary art, highlighted by two iconic Warhol self-portraits each expected to fetch in excess of $20 million each.
Editing by Paul Simao