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ART MARKET WATCH
Nov. 16, 2006 

Everyone said that it would be a record-breaker, and sure enough, it was. The much-ballyhooed sale of contemporary art at Christie's Rockefeller Center salesroom on the evening of Nov. 16, 2006, which included eight works by Andy Warhol and six by Willem de Kooning, totaled $239,704,000, a new high for a contemporary art auction, with 72 of 81 lots finding buyers, or 89 percent.

Bidding was "fast and furious throughout the evening," noted an elated Christopher Burge, Christie's chief auctioneer, at the post-sale press conference. Nineteen new artist's records were set, and an incredible 51 lots sold for over $1 million. Prices given here include the auction-house premium of 20 percent on the first $200,000 and 12 percent on the remainder.

The top lot was Willem de Kooning's Untitled XXV (1977), a 77 x 88 in. oil-on-canvas that sold for $27,120,000, after a rather drawn-out battle, to Christopher Eykyn of the Manhattan art dealers Eykyn Maclean. Among the underbidders, according to observers in the room, were art consultant Abigail Asher and Louise Eliosof of Citigroup Art Advisory. The price is more than double the presale estimate of $12,000,000, and a new record for any work of post-war art sold at auction.

The price sparked a momentary "de Kooning mania" as two lots later, the artist's tiny (ca. 11 x 8 in.) pastel and charcoal drawing of a Woman (1952) soared above its presale high estimate of $4,500,000 to sell for $9,648,000. In all, the top ten included four de Koonings, three Warhols, and works by Clyfford Still, Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Diebenkorn.

Still's 1947 abstraction, 1947-R-No. 1, a heavily worked, deep crimson canvas measuring almost six feet square, was perhaps the sale's most sought-after work. The famously demanding artist only sold about 150 paintings without restriction (this one was originally owned by Alfonso Ossorio, and last appeared in a memorial exhibition for the Robert Elkon Gallery in 1981), and the available supply is obviously getting thin.

The painting was greeted by a flurry of bids from all over -- like many of the night's lots -- and eventually sold for $21,296,000 to an anonymous telephone bidder. The price is well above the $7,000,000 presale high estimate, and also considerably more than the artist's previous auction record of $3.1 million set in 2004.

Of the Warhols, Andy's large (82 x 61 in.) Mao (1972) sold for $17,376,000 to a phone bidder, a new auction record for the artist. The buyer of the Mao was later revealed to be Hong Kong real estate billionaire Joseph Lau; the seller was the Daros Collection in Switzerland. The sale is perhaps emblematic of the new world order -- the price for Mao outstripped the previous Warhol record of $17,327,500 (if only by $48,500), set in 1998 when the iconic Hollywood Orange Marilyn (1962) was purchased by S.I Newhouse, essentially kicking off the current contemporary art boom.

The Christie's sale contained its own Orange Marilyn, a 20 x 16 in. version of the 40 x 40 in. former record-holding painting. It sold for $16,256,000 to an anonymous telephone bidder, just above its presale high estimate of $15,000,000. "How about a hand for Christopher," said Manhattan dealer Robert Mnuchin, sparking laughs and a brief round of applause for Christie's auctioneer. 

Warhol's Marilyn paintings now constitute a market segment on their own, with at least ten Marilyns hitting the auction block in the first two weeks of November, including a 7-inch-square announcement card, signed on the front by Andy, which sold for $20,000 on Nov. 1. The smaller Orange Marilyn itself had been sold twice before, going for $3.7 million in 2001 and $2.8 million in 1998.

Among the other Warhols was a large (80 x 64 in.) Sixteen Jackies (1964), which sold for $15,696,000 to Andrew Fabricant of Richard Gray Gallery, and a bright, 24-inch-square Flowers painting from 1964 that went for $2,256,600 to a phone bidder.

The sale set new auction records for John Baldessari ($800,000), Sol LeWitt ($520,000), Robert Mangold ($800,000), Carl Andre ($2,032,000), Robert Rauschenberg ($1,416,000), Sam Francis ($4,048,000), Richard Diebenkorn ($6,176,000), Josef Albers ($1,136,000), Arshile Gorky ($2,816,000), Mark Tansey ($3,040,000), Matthias Weischer ($441,600), Eric Fischl ($1,920,000), Anselm Kiefer ($1,360,000) and Louise Bourgeois ($4,048,000).

Among the buyers were London dealer Stephen Friedman, who won Jim Hodges' Not Born This Way (1994), a garland of silk flowers, for $204,000, and Cologne dealer Raphael Jablonka, who bought the record-setting Fischl, a 1984 painting of a reclining man hugging a child called Daddy's Girl, for $1,920,000. 

PaceWildenstein was in the room, with Susan Dunn winning Sol LeWitt's Serial Project (Set B) from 1966 for $374,400 and John Chamberlain's 1961 painted steel sculpture Oteen for $688,000. Her colleague Marc Glimcher bought Barnett Newman's untitled ink-on-paper "zip" work for $352,000.

SoHo dealer Jeffrey Deitch was the winning bidder for Frank Stella's classic WFUV Double (1967) for $1,696,000. Louise Eliosof won the stunning "column" painting by Morris Louis, Bellatrix (1961), for $1,360,000. And European dealer Karsten Greve bought Cy Twombly's 1959 painting, Untitled (Panorama), for $4,608,000.

For complete illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

For future sales, see our Upcoming Auctions page.


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