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Spring Contemporary Auctions Hit The Art Market

Top auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's held their spring contemporary art auctions this week.

On May 15, Sotheby's New York held their Spring Evening Sale of Contemporary Art, which the firm described as "an extraordinary array of both iconic and high-quality works representing many key moments in the history of contemporary art." The auction company fetched a record $255 million in sales that night with many works surpassing their respective estimates.

Who are these buyers and why the record sales? As more masterpieces-classic and modern-become acquired by museums and private collections, many newly wealthy Russian and Asian collectors and Wall Street players are snatching up contemporary art faster than ever--and spending top dollar for it.

Mark Rothko's  from the collection of David Rockefeller sold at Sotheby's Contemporary Art auction for a record $72.84 million
(Sotheby's)
Mark Rothko's from the collection of David Rockefeller sold at Sotheby's Contemporary Art auction for a record $72.84 million

Mark Rothko's White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) from the collection of David Rockefeller sold at a record $72.84 million--breaking last years record $27.1 million for an auction work; Francis Bacon's Study from Pope Innocent X, 1962, which is based on a series of paintings from Spanish artist Diego Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650 sold for $52.68 million; and Jean-Michel Basquiat's Untitled, 1981, which is being sold by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, to create the Barbara and Eugene Schwartz Contemporary Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, sold for $14.6 million.

Works by Gerhard Richter, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann and Jeff Koons also exceeded sales estimations.

Across town at Rockefeller Center, Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale took place on May 16. Highlights included: Mark Rothko's Untitled, 1954 (sold for $26.9 million); Jasper John's Figure 4, 1959 (sold for $17.4 million); and Andy Warhol's Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), 1963 (sold for $71.7 million).

Warhol's Green Car Crash is the most valuable Warhol work to come to auction and its $71 million sale price far exceeded estimates and surpassed the previous record set by the artist with his iconic Mao, 1972, which was purchased for $17.4 million at Christie's New York in

Roy Lichtenstein's
(Sotheby's)
Roy Lichtenstein's

November 2006.

The Car Crash paintings that Warhol made between late 1962 and early 1964, are apart of his series of Death and Disaster paintings in which the artists tone takes a surrealistic and macabre turn. Said of Green Car Crash, Brett Gorvy, Deputy Chairman and International Co-Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art: "This is a painting that has been considered the Holy Grail by a legion of contemporary art collectors and for years this work has been on every major wish list."

Art collectors and investors alike seek these treasures--and sales often break records. Sue Herrera speaks to Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art specialist Amy Cappallazzo about what's driving the art market boom and what to expect from the bidding at Thursday's auction.