Sotheby's stuns with $316 million contemporary art sale

Thu Nov 10, 2011 12:55am EST
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The art auctions ended with a flourish on Wednesday as Sotheby's sold $316 million of contemporary and postwar art, the best result of two weeks of sales and led by a $61.7 million Clyfford Still abstract.

The sale, held amid a backdrop of world financial market turmoil, gave Sotheby's its highest contemporary total since May 2008 -- when the art market was at its peak and just months before the financial crisis took hold.

"The sale blew every expectation away," said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art who also served as auctioneer.

The $315,837,000 total including commissions easily beat the presale estimate of $192 million to $270 million.

"It was one of the best auctions I've ever seen in my life," said Nicolai Frahm, a leading London-based contemporary art adviser. "And in the middle of a recession," he added.

Sotheby's scored a coup by landing a group of four Stills, whose works virtually never come to market and which were being sold by the city of Denver to benefit a new Still museum opening there this month.

Led by "1949-A-No. 1," which soared to $61,682,500 against an estimate of $30 million and smashed the record for the artist, the group of abstracts took in $114 million, nearly twice the pre-sale estimate.

Similarly, a group of eight works by Gerhard Richter totaled $74 million, nearly three times the low estimate. The artist's abstract numbered (849-3) fetched $20.8 million, nearly twice the estimate and setting an artist's record.   Continued...