Christie’s Contemporary Art Auction Sets Record at $495 Million

Woman With Flowered Hat -1963


“Record prices for 12 contemporary artists including Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat made history on Wednesday night. The sale of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s in Rockefeller Center totaled $495 million, the highest sales figure at any art auction…

…Even the pros were reeling. “It shows how broad the market is — as in deep pockets,” said the dealer Larry Gagosian.

A salesroom overflowing with high-profile collectors — including the Los Angeles financier Eli Broad; the Barnes & Noble founder Leonard Riggio; the vice chairman of Blackstone Group, J. Tomlison Hill; and the chairman of J. Crew, Millard Drexler — watched with rapt attention as work after work fetched higher and higher prices.

Ronald O. Perelman, the New York investor, must have also been a happy seller. He was the owner of Lichtenstein’s “Woman With Flowered Hat,” a 1963 painting that is the Pop artist’s take on a Picasso canvas with the same title. Laurence Graff, the London jeweler, bought the Lichtenstein for $50 million, or $56.1 million with fees, well above its $32 million high estimate; it also was a record setter for the artist at auction.

Mr. Graff, who sat in the front row of the salesroom, patiently outbid three telephone contenders. After the sale, he said he had bought it as a birthday present for himself; he turns 75 on June 13. “It’s a masterpiece,” Mr. Graff added. “I’ve known the painting for years, always saw it in the textbooks.”

“Woman With Flowered Hat” had been included in museum shows, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate in London and the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was not the only work by Lichtenstein to score a high number. “Nude With Yellow Flower,” a 1994 painting with the artist’s well-known vertical stripes and benday dots, depicting one of the artist’s signature comic-book blondes talking on the telephone, was expected to fetch $12 million to $16 million. A seller paid $21 million, or $23.6 million with fees.

That seemed modest compared to “Dustheads,” Basquiat’s seven-foot-tall canvas from 1982, depicting a pair of mask-like faces punctuated with the artist’s signature graffiti-like scrawls. It sold to a telephone bidder for $48.8 million with fees, also a record price. (The last record, set at Christie’s in 2012, was $26.4 million.) The painting had been estimated to sell for $25 million to $35 million and was being sold by the London collector Tiqui Atencio, who bought it from the dealer Tony Shafrazi in 1996.

A work on paper, also by Basquiat, “Furious Man,” from 1982, sold for $5 million, or $5.7 million with fees, nearly four times its high $1.5 million estimate. It was sold by the estate of the singer Andy Williams.

After the sale, Jussi Pylkkanen, the evening’s auctioneer, pointed out the sheer number of bidders willing to drop more than $20 million.

“We are in a new era of the art market,” he said. (via by Carol Vogel)

Check out our Roy Lictenstein collection here.

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