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Au Revoir, Renoir! Post-war American Art Sets Records

Source: Christie's

Last night in New York, Christie's auctioned nearly $412.3 million of post-war and contemporary works of art, including a seminal silk-screen by Andy Warhol that sold for $43 million.

The total broke a record for an auction of post-war work that had been set only the night before at Sotheby's.

Bidders from around the globe battled for pieces by Warhol, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Jeff Koons and Roy Lichtenstein, among others, at Christie's Rockefeller Center showroom. New York Yankees' third-baseman Alex Rodriguez, sat front and center in a black stocking cap, though he snuck out about 30 minutes into the sale.

Another Warhol silkscreen, "The Wild One," belonging to New York businessman Donald Bryant was bought by collector Joseph Nahmad on behalf of the Nahmad family. The same painting sold for $1.7 million in 1997 and $5 million in 2003.

The evening was fast-paced from the start, with auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie's Middle East Europe & Russia head, leading furious bidding over Alexander Calder's "Policeman" wire sculpture, which sold for record auction price of $4.2 million, or four times the original estimate.

"It was clear the bidders, from America, Europe, Asia, Russia and the Middle East, were "all in" last night," said Pylkkänen. "For the iconic, masterpiece lots there were six, seven, eight bidders going after them."

Eight new auction records were established, with 11 works selling above $10 million, 16 over $5 million and 56 for over $1 million.

According to Christie's, the sale was 93 percent sold by value and 92 percent sold by lot, cheering art-world observers after auctions of Impressionist and modern work earlier in the week left as many as a third of the lots without buyers.

"There has been a shift in taste," Gorvy told CNBC's Power Lunch. "We are now seeing a global market responding very much to the contemporary, toward [work] produced 1945 to the present day."

Andy Warhol's "Statue of Liberty" is the first silkscreen using the artist's 3D effect, and the only such canvas still in private hands. Gorvy describes it as a "seminal work from the artist's most influential period and one of the most important paintings by the artist ever to come to market."

Franz Kline's 1957 work "Untitled" fetched $40.4 million after a five-minute bidding battle on the phone among three collectors, The price set a new world record for the Abstract Expressionist pioneer, and bested the previous $9.3 million auction high for a Kline.

Former owners of the painting include former Goldman Sachs partner turned gallerist Robert Mnuchin, entertainment mogul David Geffen, and, most recently, KKR co-chairman George Roberts. Kline's work had been considered undervalued for years, but last night's hammer price suggests that deals on Klines are no longer available.

Roy Lichtenstein's "Nude with Red Shirt," with an estimate of $12 million to $20 million, sold for $28 million.

Another world auction was set for an outdoor sculpture when "Tulips," by Jeff Koons and sold by a German bank, went for $33.6 million.

Perhaps the biggest loser of the night was SAC Capital Advisor's Steven A. Cohen. His Gerhard Richter's stalled at $8.8 million and went unsold. The estimate was between $12 and $18 million. The market for Richter has been red hot, with an auction record of $21.8 million, and he has shared the distinction, with Koons, of being one of the world's top-selling living artists.

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