Defying fears the contemporary art market has become overvalued, a sale at Christie's on Tuesday achieved the second-best auction result ever with records broken for 16 artists.
With 93 percent of the 67 lots of postwar and contemporary works finding buyers, the auction's $325 million total was likely to ease concerns about the art market in the face of recent problems with the economy and a poor showing at rival Sotheby's Impressionist sale last week.
The market is obviously incredibly healthy right across the board, Christopher Burge, Christie's honorary chairman, who also served as auctioneer, said after the sale.
It was an absolutely incredible result, Burge said. The total fell right in the middle of the $270 million to $375 million estimate.
Christie's said half the buyers were American, with one-quarter European. Americans have traditionally dominated the contemporary art market.
The (weak) dollar is helping overseas buyers, but not scaring off U.S. buyers, Burge noted.
The top lot was Mark Rothko's untitled (Red, Blue, Orange) from 1955, which sold for $34.4 million, above its high pre-sale estimate of $30 million and the second-best price for a Rothko at auction.
Bidding was generally conservative at the uppermost echelons, yielding somewhat disappointing prices for two of the sale's spotlighted offerings.
Andy Warhol's Liz, being sold by actor Hugh Grant, and Jeff Koons' large-scale sculpture Diamond (Blue), which in recent weeks has graced the entrance at Christie's Rockefeller Center headquarters, both fell short of expectations.
Warhol's portrait of Elizabeth Taylor sold for $23.56 million, including commission, less than the low estimate of $25 million.
While the $11.8 million fetched by the Koons work smashed the artist's record of $5.6 million, it came in under expectations ranging from $12 million to $20 million. It was bought by the Gagosian Gallery, one of Manhattan's premier contemporary art dealers.
The contemporary market has grown at such an extraordinary rate that it can be very difficult to precisely calculate what a particular work is going to sell for, said Brett Gorvy, Christie's international co-head of contemporary and postwar art.
Another work that set a record but fell just shy of estimates was Lucian Freud's Ib and her Husband, which fetched $19,361,000. Gerhard Richter's Jet Fighter also broke the artist's record, going for $11,241,000, above its low estimate of $10 million.