May 9, 2006

Contemporary art auction nets $143 million

By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Works by Andy Warhol and Willem de
Kooning each sold for more than $10 million at Christie's on
Tuesday, signaling a healthy, if not runaway, market for
post-war and contemporary art.

Damien Hirst broke his own record with a
sheep-in-formaldehyde sculpture in the monumental auction which
placed 91 lots on the block, including a group of 26 works by
Donald Judd. Only eight failed to sell.

The auction house took in $143,187,200 including
commissions, its second-highest total for a contemporary art
auction and right in the middle of its $130 million to $160
million pre-sale estimate.

New records were set for 12 of the 47 artists whose works
were on offer, including David Hockney, Brice Marden and Hirst.

Twenty-five Judd sculptures sold for a total of $24.5
million, or more than 10 percent above Christie's high estimate
for the group. Prices ranged from $72,000 to $2.7 million.

Throughout the evening bidding was brisk, which auctioneer
Christopher Burge said characterized both the sale itself and
the overall market for contemporary art.

"It was a very strong result," Burge said. "It wasn't a
crazy result."

He did note a few disappointments, however, including major
works by Francis Bacon and David Smith. A Smith sculpture broke
the record for any post-war art at auction last fall.

The sale's top lot was Warhol's "Small Torn Campbell's Soup
Can (Pepper Pot)" from 1962 which sold for nearly $11.8 million
-- the highest price paid for one of the artist's seminal soup
can works. Warhols did well throughout the sale, with perhaps
the biggest surprise being the $5.2 million that an
unidentified American collector paid for "S&H Green Stamps (64
S&H Green Stamps)" -- four times its pre-sale estimate.

An untitled 1961 de Kooning went for $10.1 million while
his "Two Women (Study for Clamdigger)" far exceeded
expectations, fetching $5.7 million.

An American art dealer paid $3.4 million for "Away From the
Flock Divided," one of Hirst's infamous sculptures of an animal
-- this one a sheep -- split and preserved in formaldehyde. It
was a record for a work by Hirst, at the helm of the young
British artists movement whose works have often generated

The spring auctions wrap up on Wednesday with Sotheby's
post-war and contemporary art sale.