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Nov. 11, 2010 

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Christie’s New York evening sale of post-war and contemporary art on Nov. 10, 2010, included so many Andy Warhol works that you’d think the factory was still turning them out. Of the 75 lots in the sale, 15 were by Warhol, or 20 percent, and all of them sold. "The more there is, the more the market wants," said Christie’s specialist Amy Cappellazzo, creating a new Warhol koan. It made the sale feel especially glamorous, and very attuned to Pop culture.

(An interesting contrast to all those Warhols was Frank Stella’s structuralist abstraction Telluride from 1960-61, the kind of thing that once ruled contemporary esthetics. No such luck this time around, as the shaped copper-colored painting, looking a little dingy, passed at a reserve of probably $3.5 million or so. It had had pride of place in the collection of Hollywood producer Max Palevsky.)

By the numbers, Christie’s sold 70 of 75 lots, or 93 percent, for a total of $272,873,000 (with premium), within the presale estimate. Four lots sold for over $10 million. About 63 percent of the buyers were from the U.S. Here’s the mini-chart: $348 million (May 2008), $113.6 million (November 2008), $93.7 million (May 2009), $74.1 million (November 2009) and $231.9 (May 2010). "The art market is quite back," Cappellazzo said.

The top lot, Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-panel of a mopey red-head on the phone, Ohhh. . . Alright (1964), went for $42,642,500 to an anonymous buyer, about at the presale estimate, and a new auction record for the artist. The seller was casino mogul Steve Wynn. †

The auction of the lot was fairly cut-and-dried, with ace auctioneer Christopher Burge, smoothly commanding the podium in a dark charcoal suit and lavender tie, running the bids up in $500,000 increments to a hammer price of $38 million, tendered by Christie’s chairman Marc Porter on the telephone. Any bidding in the room was imperceptible; the lot had a guarantee financed through an anonymous third party.†

The number two lot, Warhol’s 1962 Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable), sold for $23,882,500 to a telephone bidder, less than half of the $50 million presale high estimate, but a considerable sum all the same -- it is now the eighth highest Warhol auction price. The first Warhol work to be shown in a museum (at the Wadsworth Atheneum, in 1962), the painting was sent to auction by cruise-line mogul Barney Ebsworth to help finance his long-planned and controversial "meditative chapel" in Seattle (a nonprofit, so sales tax may not be due on the purchase).

The third big lot of the night was Jeff KoonsBalloon Flower (1995-2000), a blue chromium stainless steel sculpture that was proudly displayed on the plaza of Christie’s Rockefeller Center headquarters. It sold for $16,882,500, just above its presale high estimate, to L&M Arts director Amy Gold, consulting with a client on her cell phone. Koons’ auction record is $25.7 million, set in London in 2008 with the sale of a magenta Balloon Flower.

In addition to the Lichtenstein record, the sale set new auction records for Alexander Calder ($5,831,500), Mark Tansey ($3,218,500), Morris Louis ($2,994,500), Mark Grotjahn ($1,482,500), Richard Lindner ($1,022,500) and Marcel Duchamp ($860,415).

The auction marked the entry of artist Glenn Ligon in the evening sale sweepstakes, as an example of his clotted, expressionistic word paintings -- long a staple of the day sales -- sold for $362,500 to dealer Lawrence Luhring.

Among the winners of the Warhols were Jose Mugrabi (paying $4,450,500 for a 14 x 11 in. Marilyn and $1,650,500 for a 20 x 16 in. Jackie), L&M Arts ($2,602,500 for a Little Electric Chair), art consultant Neal Meltzer ($1,583,500 for Dance Diagram, a pencil drawing on paper from 1962), White Cube (paying $1,482,500 for Campbell’s Elvis) and Thaddaeus Ropac ($962,500 for Dennis Hopper -- one of several works from the estate of the eponymous actor).

Mugrabi, of course, had just sold Warhol’s Men in Her Life (1962) for $63.3 million at Phillips de Pury two days before, so even with his many purchases this week, he’s probably a net winner.

Bicoastal art consultant Gabriel Catone, co-founder of Ruth/Catone, which only recently became a player in the evening auctions (he is married to Bruce Cohen, Oscar-winning producer of Milk and American Beauty), bought three works: Alexander Calder’s 1968 maquette for the mobile Bourges ($23,882,500), Marcel Duchamp’s Monte Carlo Bond (No. 1) of 1924 ($1,082,500) and Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Lavender Butterfly Jacaranda over Green) of 2004 ($1,482,500).†

Other buyers included L&M Arts’ Dominique Lťvy (Jackson Pollock’s 24 x 20 in. Eyes in the Heat II, which went for $6,242,500), San Francisco dealer John Berggruen (Calder’s Untitled mobile from ca. 1949 for $2,434,500), Larry Gagosian (Lichtenstein’s Deep in Thought for $1,986,500) and Swiss dealer Doris Ammann (Richard Lindner’s Boy with Machine for $638,500).

New York dealer David Zwirner and London dealer Tim Taylor both took home works by Donald Judd (two and one, respectively).

The record-setting Tansey work, On Photography (Homage to Susan Sontag) (1982), a grisaille film-noir-type image of a male photographer facing off with a blonde in bed, who points a revolver at him from under the covers, was bought by Gagosian Gallery’s Victoria Gelfand, who took the trouble to move to a free seat in the back to bid, away from her colleage Larry Gagosian, presumably so there would be no confusion. The underbidder was on the phone.

Tansey’s previous record of $3.2 million was set in May; the new price marks a jump of about 30 percent in the value of a work by the artist.

A quick word about the rebound of the art market at the high end, despite the continuing housing crunch and high unemployment: According to a New York Times report by David Cay Johnson, the incomes of the highest earners in the U.S. -- those making more than $50 million a year -- increased by fivefold between 2008 and 2009.

Prices given here include the auction-house buyer’s premium, which is 25 percent of the first $50,000, 20 percent of the amount between $50,000 and $1 million, and 12 percent on the rest.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnetís signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

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