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.
Officials admitted to trepidation after Monday's spotty Impressionist and modern sale at Sotheby's, which fell well short of even the low estimate.
"It was a tough day for us," said Brett Gorvy, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's, referring to the pre-sale hours. He said results were buoyed in part by "strong Asian bidding across the board."
Officials also stressed collectors' hunger for objects new to the market, noting that 85 percent of the works offered on Monday had never before appeared at auction.
Auction records were also set for several other artists, including Richard Prince, Agnes Martin and Mike Kelley.
Among other highlights, Mark Rothko's abstract "No. 17" fetched $32.6 million, while Clifford Still's "PH-234" sold for $28.2 million. The abstract works, executed in styles well associated with the artists, each sold for just over the low pre-sale estimate.
Martin's "Orange Grove", with an estimate $6.5 million-$8.5 million, sold for $10.7 million, including commission of just over 12 percent.
It was Christie's second successful result and followed Sunday's $78 million specially curated sale, which handily beat its high estimate.
The auctions continue on Wednesday with Sotheby's' post-war and contemporary art sale.
Editing by Paul Tait