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Records topple in modern art bonanza

Reuters in New York
Friday May 13, 2005

Francis Bacon's 1979 work Seated Figure
Francis Bacon's 1979 work Seated Figure, which was sold to a private buyer for $3.9m at Christie's
The biggest ever sale of post-war and contemporary art has taken place at Christie's in New York, with the auction house raising $133.7m (72m) in a single night.

With works by Edward Hopper and Willem de Kooning leading the way, fetching $14m and $13.1m respectively including commission, the monumental sale provided ample evidence of a strong art market in the face of a continuously unsteady economy.

While Hopper's Chair Car from 1965, one of the last works by the American artist left in private hands, was billed as the sale's highlight, interest in the piece was muted with only two bidders vying at the upper echelons before the hammer came down.

Still, the rare Hopper, which was bought by New York's Berry Hill Galleries, smashed the previous record for the artist of $2.42m which had stood since 1990.

It was a different matter with de Kooning's 1949 Sail Cloth, which provoked one of the longest bidding wars in recent memory before finally selling to an anonymous telephone bidder.

Christie's officials said afterward that the total take easily eclipsed the previous record for any contemporary auction of $102.1m, which it set only a year ago.

Christie's chairman, Marc Porter, noted that the strong results of the past two weeks (with the exception of Sotheby's impressionist auction) had paid testament to the strength of the current market.

"It absolutely speaks to the material well-being of a significant portion of the population," Mr Porter said. "Many people see art as a strong and prudent store of capital, with enormous psychic benefits as well."

In all, 11 of the 76 works on the block failed to sell, while virtually all that sold did so either within or above their pre-sale estimates. The total for the sale fell right in the middle of the $111-153m estimate.

Other top lots included Andy Warhol's large-scale Flowers, from the pop artist's seminal series, which fetched $7,85m or just over its low estimate of $7m, and an untitled Mark Rothko from 1964 which went for $10.09m, beating its high estimate.

Records were set for 17 artists including Philip Guston, whose The Street from 1956 sold for $7.29m or nearly twice the high estimate and more than triple the old mark, and Franz Kline, whose Crow Dancer from 1958 fetched $6.4m.

Other records were set by Arshile Gorky, Joseph Cornell, Isamu Noguchi and Sigmar Polke, and for a Jasper Johns sculpture and a Roy Lichtenstein work on paper.

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