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Art Market Watch

Come November, art-world observers generally gauge the state of the contemporary art market from the evening auctions at Christie's, Sotheby's and, now, Phillips in New York. But there's a special excitement to the day sales. Many more lots are on the block, and newer, younger artists are often put into play. And, with prices in the five- and six-figure range, bidding battles can more easily send works beyond their presale estimates.

Sotheby's part II contemporary art sale on Nov. 15, 2001, sold 181 of 262 lots -- 69 percent -- for a total of $8.3 million (with premium). The top two lots were both works by Andy Warhol -- Warhol is common currency in the contemporary market -- both selling for above their high estimate. A 1964 Flowers painting in white, green and blood red, measuring 24 inches square, went for $610,750 (est. $250,000-$350,000); Warhol made dozens of works with this image -- the top price is $8.4 million -- though this lot set a record for its size. The second Warhol, 4 Reversal Marilyns, a 36 x 28 in. picture dated 1979-86, went for $390,750 (est. $280,000-$350,000).

Another hot artist is Eric Fischl, whose 1981 painting Love, a five-foot-tall, gray-toned picture of some shipboard hijinks, went for $324,750 (est. $150,000-$200,000). Fischl's auction performance has soared past that of his old colleague David Salle, whose works are more likely to hover on the threshold of six figures (or less). According to Sotheby's, all but one of the buyers of the top 10 lots were U.S. private collectors, suggesting a strong economy here as well as a disinclination for Europeans to come over to bid.

Down at Christie's day sale on Nov. 16, 94 of 116 lots -- 81 percent -- sold for a total of $4.2 million. The cover lot, a brightly pattered untitled Keith Haring painting of interlocking figures done in 1984, sold for $402,000 (est. $150,000-$200,000), a new auction record for the artist. It was one of several lots from the collection of SoHo dealer Tony Shafrazi, who originally employed the young artist doing odd jobs at his first gallery on Park Avenue South.

Another top lot at Christie's was a large (189 x 150 in.) painting done on a found Kabuki tarp in 1986 by Julian Schnabel. Egyptische Helena sold for $248,000, well over its presale high estimate of $120,000. Christie's day sale set auction records for Rachel Lachowitz, whose 1992 set of three bright red Untitled (lipstick urinals) sold for $17,625 (est. $15,000-$20,000); Josiah McIlhenny, for his 1998 History Modernized, a set of 15 black and white photos of historical glass objects with a matching set of 15 blown-glass replicas of the objects, that sold for $35,250 (est. $15,000-$20,000); and for Vik Muniz, whose Bloody Marilyn (2001) sold for $47,000 (est. $15,000-$20,000).

The Muniz record stood for only a few days, and was broken by a work in Christie's part I Latin American sale on Nov. 19 when a 1996 print of Sugar Children sold for $75,200.

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