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Christie's tops Sotheby's post-war contemporary sales total with $412 million


If the economic outlook for the art world is to be judged on the past 48 hours in New York then it is very healthy indeed.

On Wednesday night Sotheby’s realised the biggest auction in its 268-year history with an impressive $375 million at its post-war contemporary sale. But rival auctioneers Christie’s last night topped that achievement with a record-breaking sales total of $412 million at its own contemporary sale – claiming to have had the most valuable auction in that category ever.

Jeff Koons' sculpture Tulip was among the star purchases, selling for a record $33.7 million. Records were also set for Franz Kline, with Untitled fetching $40 million, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose Untitled released $26.4 million.

“This evening’s sale set a new record total for any post-war and contemporary art sale. Over the past six years, Christie’s has led this market first over the $200 million, then over the $300 million, and now over the $400 million barrier,” said Brett Gorvy, Deputy Chairman and International Head of post-war and contemporary art. 

Eight new auction records were established, 11 works sold for over $10 million, 16 for over $5 million and 56 for over $1 million at the auction in the Rockerfella Plaza last night. Only seven of the 73 works on offer went unsold.

Other highlights of the Christie sale included works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Gerhard Richter - although a piece by the latter estimated to fetch up to $12 million went unsold when the $9 million reserve went unmet.

Sotheby’s claimed Wednesday night’s sale was the best result it ever had for a single auction, beating its’ high pre-sale estimate. By contrast its sale was led by a $75million Mark Rothko (No.1 Royal Red and Blue) which sold for nearly double its estimate. The Rothko Black Stripe (Orange, Gold and Black) auctioned by Christie’s fetched $21.3 million.

"It's very difficult to cover that broad a spectrum [of art from 1948 to today]," Koji Inoue, Christie's vice president and specialist in charge of the sale told Reuters.

"It's amazing that contemporary art has become blue-chip value," he said, adding: "I think we're just seeing the beginning."