Bidding frenzy as Sotheby’s close to making art auction record

Lichtenstein and Rothko draw bidders while Christie’s sells most expensive painting in history

A day after rival Christie's sold the most expensive painting in auction history, Sotheby's fell just shy of its best-ever contemporary art result, taking in some $380 million and setting records for artists including Christopher Wool and Sigmar Polke.

Led by Mark Rothko's untitled yellow and blue oil from 1954 which sold for $46.5 million - nearer the low end of its pre-sale estimate - the auction saw steady, if not unfettered bidding for top works by Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Richter, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.

Of the 63 works on offer only seven failed to find buyers, though a number of its top-priced works came in nearer the low estimates.

The sale totaled $379,676,000, including Sotheby’s commission of just over 12 percent, well within its pre-sale estimate of $315 million to $411 million.

Officials hailed the result as a huge success, some $500,000 short of Sotheby’s’ best-ever total for a post-war and contemporary auction.

"The depth of global participation this evening was extraordinary," said senior international specialist for contemporary art and auctioneer Oliver Barker, echoing sentiments prevalent for several years running about the expanding and increasingly global art market.

Among the sale’s high points, Wool’s Untitled (RIOT) soared to $29.9 million, doubling the estimate and breaking his auction record.

Lichtenstein’s “The Ring (Engagement)” was bought by an Asian collector, fetching $41.7 million, short of its $50 million estimate. But in a sign of the ever-soaring prices for top-tier post-war works, Sotheby’s noted that “The Ring” had sold for $2.2 million when it was last auctioned in 1997.

Polke set a record with “Dschungel (Jungle),” which sold for $27.1 million, nearly three times what it achieved just four years ago. In all seven artists set new records on the night.

An Asian collector also spent big for Richter’s colorful “Abstraktes Bild,” which sold for $28.3 million, while Warhol’s “Superman” doubled expectations, fetching $14.4 million.

The spring auctions continue on Wednesday, when Christie’s holds it post-war and contemporary sale. On Monday night the auction house sold Picasso’s “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” just under $180 million, the highest price ever for a single work of art in auction history.