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Art Market Watch
Nov. 9, 2005 

Bids were flying -- really high bids -- in the packed salesroom at Christie's New York during its post-war and contemporary art auction on the evening of Nov. 8, 2005. By the end of the rather long sale -- 70 lots, five or ten more than usual -- 66 works, or 94 percent, had sold for a total of $157,441,600, well above the total presale high estimate of $145.6 million. "It was a very high quality sale, mirrored by the extraordinary results," said Christie's chief auctioneer Christopher Burge, with more than his usual enthusiasm.

According to Burge, 82 percent of the lots went to U.S. buyers, an inordinately high percentage, with 63 percent of the winning bids coming from within the room, which is also unusual. An astonishing 18 records were set, and 37 lots sold for over $1 million. Prices given here include the auction house premium, 20 percent on the first $200,000 and 12 percent on the remainder.

Top lot was Mark Rothko's 1954 Homage to Matisse, a nine-foot-tall, yellow, orange and blue canvas painted the year of Matisse's death, which sold for $22,416,000 (est. $15 million-$20 million), a record for the artist and for any post-war artwork. Starting at $10 million, the bids rose in $500,000 jumps until the painting was sold to an anonymous telephone bidder. The picture was one of a trove from the collection of Los Angeles real estate developer Edward Broida.

Roy Lichtenstein's classic Pop painting, the wordless but emotionally fraught In the Car (1963), sold for $16,256,000 (est. $12 million-$16 million). The painting was purchased after lively bidding by Robert Mnuchin of L&M Arts, apparently speaking to a client on his cell phone. The price is an auction record for the artist.

Mnuchin won two other lots in the top ten: Willem de Kooning's Untitled (1977), a blue and white East Hampton abstraction that was knocked down for $10,656,000 (est. $4 million-$6 million); and David Smith's welded steel, brown-patinaed Jurassic Bird (1945), which sold for $4,944,000 (est. $2,000,000-$3,000,000), a new Smith auction record. The Smith was from the Broida trove, while the de Kooning was one of 17 works in the sale from the collection of the late show-biz attorney Lee V. Eastman, father of Linda McCartney and grandfather of Stella McCartney.

Underbidder on the de Kooning was dealer Larry Gagosian, sitting a few rows away. After a dramatic bidding duel, with the price jumping in increments of $100,000 -- Mnuchin pausing to consult with his client via cell phone, Gagosian bidding on his own without hesitation -- Gagosian stopped at $9.5 million, shaking his head "no" to the auctioneer. Gagosian didn't go empty-handed, however. He purchased Jeff Koons' Three Ball 50/50 Tank (1985) for $486,400.

Another top lot was Francis Bacon's Study for a Pope I (1961), one of a pivotal series of six works based on Diego Velasquez's 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X. It sold for $10,096,000 (est. $7 million-$9 million) to a representative of Dickinson Roundell, the international firm of art dealers. Once again, the price was a record for the artist at auction.

The auction set records for Hans Hofmann ($1,548,000), Richard Prince ($1,248,000), Christopher Wool ($1,248,000), Gilbert & George ($856,000), Robert Indiana ($856,000), Elizabeth Peyton ($856,000), Robert Smithson ($710,400), Alice Neel ($408,000), Bill Viola ($374,400), Kiki Smith ($284,800) and Walter de Maria ($240,000). The Prince, by the way, is the first photo to sell at auction for more than $1 million.

Among the buyers were art advisor Kim Heirston, who bought the Kiki Smith, an untitled 1992 white wax and pigment figure of a crouching female nude, and real estate developer Aby Rosen, who purchased Maurizio Cattelan's Musicians of Bremen-style stack of taxidermied animals (a chicken, cat, dog and donkey) from 1998 for $665,600. The work was sold in 2001 at Sotheby's New York for $610,750.

The record-setting Richard Prince work, a 50 x 70 in. photograph of the Marlboro cowboy galloping across the prairie, was bought by Chelsea dealer Stellan Holm, while the white marble self-portrait by Jeff Koons from 1991 (in an edition of three with one artist's proof) sold for $3,936,000 to Andrew Fabricant of the Richard Gray Gallery. Fabricant also purchased Philip Guston's 1953-54 abstraction Zone for $5,504,000, and Andy Warhol's small (18 x 24 in.) drawing, One Dollar Bill (1962), for $1,248,000.

Jean-Michel Basquiat's untitled 1982 painting sold to Chelsea dealer Christophe van de Weghe for $2,480,000, and David Nash bought Jean Dubuffet's High Heels, a small Art Brut sand painting from 1946, for $710,400.

Jeff Koons' Blow Job-ice (1991), a large silkscreened oil on canvas of the artist and his then wife, the Italian porn star Ciccolina, engaged in the titular sex act, sold for $408,000.

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