NEW YORK—Christie’s Postwar and contemporary evening sale on Nov. 10 rang up a total of $272.9 million, the highest of the week, and, like its predecessors, scored a string of auction records, including new marks for Alexander Calder, Mark Grotjahn, Mark Tansey and Morris Louis. Of 75 lots offered, 70, or 93 percent, were sold. By value the sale realized 92 percent. The overall estimate was $239.2 million/$348.6 million.
The evening’s top lot—winning for its creator the sale’s most impressive record—was Roy Lichtenstein’s oil Ohhh…Alright…, 1964, a comic book–style close-up of a woman’s face using the artist’s signature Benday dots. Its unpublished estimate was around $40 million, and bidding was opened at $29 million but the action was surprisingly subdued. The piece was hammered down to a phone bidder at $38 million. With premium included, the final price was $42.6 million.
Another early-1960s Andy Warhol, Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable), 1962, sold for $23.9 million. However, the price was far below the low estimate, $30 million, indicating that the consignor, Seattle collector Barney Ebsworth, had been persuaded to lower his expectations in the days leading up to the sale. Ebsworth intends to use the proceeds to fund a charitable foundation.
Similarly, Jeff Koons’s massive steel sculpture Balloon Flower (Blue), 1995–2000, which graced the front entrance of Christie’s Rockefeller Plaza showroom in the weeks leading up to the sale, attracted sparse interest but ended up among the top lots, with a final price, with premium, of $16.9 million (estimate: $12 million/16 million). It was acquired by Dominique Levy, a partner in L&M Arts, New York, for a hammer bid of $15 million.
Levy also bought Jackson Pollock’s abstract gray painting, Eyes in the Heat II, ca. 1947, for $6.2 million (estimate: $6 million/9 million).
As in the preceding evening’s sales, a work by Gerhard Richter was among the top lots, albeit at the low end of its $12 million/16 million estimate: the artist’s painting of two candles, Zwei Kerzen (499-2), 1982, sold for $13 million.
The Mugrabi family, reportedly holders of the world’s largest private Warhol collection, bid aggressively on many of the 15 Warhol works offered here, including 8 from the collection of the late Robert Shapazian, a former managing director of the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. The Mugrabis won Jackie, 1964, a blue silk screen of a smiling Jacqueline Kennedy that sold for $1.7 million on a $600,000/800,000 estimate. They also bought Marilyn, 1962, a silk screen of pink and yellow against a turquoise background, for $4.4 million on a $4 million/6 million estimate.
London dealer Jay Jopling acquired Warhol’s Campbell’s Elvis, 1962, also from the Shapazian collection, for $1.5 million (estimate: $600,000/800,000).
In all, the Warhols accounted for $70.4 million of Christie’s total. The eight Shapazian collection works achieved $34 million of that.
Other buyers in the room included John Berggruen, who acquired Calder’s untitled hanging mobile, ca. 1949, for $2.4 million (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million). New York dealer Jack Tilton underbid on Cy Twombly’s abstract painting Leda and the Swan, 1963. It sold to another gentleman bidding in the room for $2.3 million (estimate: $1.5 million/2.5 million). Larry Gagosian was an underbidder on Tansey’s On Photography (Homage to Susan Sontag), 1982, which sold to a phone bidder for a record $4.7 million (estimate: $3 million/4 million).
Also marking new artist records were the $6.4 million paid for Calder’s large red sheet-metal sculpture Red Curlicue, 1973, offered from the collection of the late computer entrepreneur and philanthropist Max Palevsky with a $4 million/6 million estimate, and the $3 million paid for Morris Louis’s flamelike abstract painting Saf, 1959, which was estimated at $900,000/1.2 million.
A new record was set for Mark Grotjahn when his painting Untitled (Lavender Butterfly Jacaranda over Green), 2004, that features the thick bands of paint for which the artist is known, sold for $1.5 million (estimate: $500,000/700,000).