Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Art Market: Seeing dollar signs

By Georgina Adam

Published: November 13 2009 23:46 | Last updated: November 13 2009 23:46

This week’s auctions of contemporary art in New York saw the market take a distinct upswing, with energetic sales culminating in an astonishing $43.8m given at Sotheby’s for a rare silk-screen painting by Andy Warhol. “This was an unbelievably strong sale,” said New York dealer Christophe Van de Weghe on Wednesday night. “People just wanted to spend money tonight, they were tired of holding back.” The auction house had just raised $134.4m in its 54-lot sale, well ahead of its high estimate of $97.7m (presale estimates do not include commissions; results do). Only two lots failed to find buyers.

While the Warhol was widely expected to beat its $8m-$12m estimate, many were astonished at how strongly it performed. Dating from 1962, “200 One Dollar Bills” comes from Warhol’s second series of serial images, and had a highly desirable provenance, having belonged to Robert and Ethel Scull, early patrons of Pop Art. According to Bloomberg, it was being sold by the London-based collector Pauline Karpidas. There were gasps in the saleroom when a Christie’s staffer on the telephone jumped to $12m immediately after the opening $6m bid, and applause and cheers rang out when the hammer came down at $43.8m.

“When you bring great quality you get great prices,” said one of two unsuccessful underbidders, the trader Alberto Mugrabi, whose family already owns several hundred Warhols.

Another Warhol on offer was a red-and-green self-portrait given in 1967 to Cathy Naso, then aged 17, who worked as a receptionist at Warhol’s Factory. She had kept the work in a cupboard until this year. “Fresh as the day it was made,” said auctioneer Tobias Meyer as he hammered it down to the London jeweller Laurence Graff for $6.1m, well over its $1m-$1.5m estimate. “I am overwhelmed by the price – Warhol made me famous for 15 minutes,” Naso commented, while Graff said, “It’s a gem!”

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