Pollock painting bucks sale trend: Geraldine Norman in New York reports on an auction to please collectors

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The Independent Online
A SMALL, dense painting by Jackson Pollock, mostly black and white with the odd splash of red, bucked the recessionary trend of the art market to sell for dollars 2,422,500 (pounds 1.5m) at Christie's in New York on Tuesday night.

The sale room was packed with international collectors and dealers, who expressed their relief at the price by clapping - collectors like to see high prices because it means their net worth is rising.

What is more, Christie's had announced before the sale of the Pollock that a dispute over its ownership was going through the courts. The auctioneer emphasised that the successful bidder would not be expected to pay until the case was settled. Even that did not discourage bidders, though it is almost unheard of for a painting of disputed ownership to reach the auction block.

The painting had apparently belonged to a recently deceased New Yorker; his daughter claims she was given it in her father's lifetime and that it should not be treated as part of the taxable estate, hence the dispute. 'It had no importance to the market,' one dealer said. The painting was bought by a European collector.

Christie's sale, a night after a bad result at Sotheby's here, demonstrated that the contemporary art market is not dead, though short of buyers at top levels. Christie's sold 38 of the 60 lots offered for sale but many at below estimate - a Sigmar Polke abstract went for dollars 57,500 against an estimate of dollars 100,000 to dollars 120,000, which caused a gasp of surprise.

Sotheby's troubles seem to have reflected errors of judgement, rather than a market trend - notably the attempt to sell poorish Warhols at big prices. The Sotheby's fiasco has temporarily turned buyers off Andy Warhol; there were four on offer at Christie's and none sold.

The second highest price at Christie's was dollars 1,212,500, in line with its estimate, for a 1967 Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait on a Revolving Chair; it was bought by a New York dealer, John Post Lee, on behalf of an American collector.

Christie's managed to sell one of their two big Georg Baselitz paintings at dollars 354,500, as estimated (the other went unsold), while a Gerhard Richter Portrait of Heinz Kuhn ran far beyond its estimate at dollars 233,500. They both sold back to Germany.