Steve Wynn $40 Million Lichtenstein Signals Pickup in Auctions

Steve Wynn’s Roy Lichtenstein painting titled “Ohhh ... Alright...’’ (1964) could sell for $40 million at Christie’s International on Nov. 10.

At that price, the artist’s Pop depiction of a fetching redhead sighing sadly on the phone would easily top his current $16.3 million auction record. It would also confirm a growing belief among sellers, dealers and auctioneers that the art market has sailed out of the doldrums.

“It’s business as usual, without the boom or the bust,’’ said Michael Findlay, a director at New York’s Acquavella Galleries.

As the major auction houses mount their big autumn sales, hundreds of sellers are aiming to take advantage of renewed confidence in the art sector, coming in the wake of a series of buzzy European art fairs and auctions. Wynn, the Las Vegas casino operator, is also offering Jean-Michel Basquiat’s jagged 1982 portrait of himself beside Andy Warhol, which has a high estimate of $10 million.

The two-week November art auctions roll into Manhattan starting Tuesday, with Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Co. offering Impressionist, modern and contemporary artworks valued at an estimated total of $1.5 billion.

“I feel appetite and confidence,’’ said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art. “There is cash around. People are sensing art is a very good investment. There is no reticence. The question is, where can I get good quality?’’

Christie’s won a trio of art-stocked estates. “This is a pretty unusual yield of quality, even for the best of times,’’ said Christie’s Deputy Chairman Amy Cappellazzo.

Cowboy Warhol

The estate of Dennis Hopper includes a 1971 blue Andy Warhol portrait of the actor in a cowboy hat, projected to sell for as much as $1.2 million. Computer pioneer Max Palevsky’s estate is offering classic works by Frank Stella, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd and Fernand Leger. The late dealer Robert Shapazian’s cache of Warhols includes portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, an electric chair and a 1962 “Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato)” estimated to sell for as much as $8 million.

Warhol as usual dominates the contemporary sales, with 19 works in Sotheby’s and Christie’s evening sales. Will the market ever tire of Mr. Warhol? For now, the experts say no.

“Warhol is the volume trade,’’ said Cappellazzo. “The more it sells, the more people want it. It trades like currency.’’

Sotheby’s has hitched its Nov. 9 sale to a stark, sophisticated, black-and-white 1962 Warhol painting of a Coca- Cola bottle almost 7 feet tall and estimated to sell for as much as $25 million. The seller, former curator Elizabeth Rea, bought the painting with her late husband in 1983 at Christie’s for $143,000.

Photographer: Tom Starkweather/Bloomberg

"Coca-Cola Large Coca-Cola", a 1961-62 painting by Andy Warhol, sits on display during a fall auction preview at Sotheby's in New York. The work may fetch up to $25 million during the Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale next month. Close

"Coca-Cola Large Coca-Cola", a 1961-62 painting by Andy Warhol, sits on display during... Read More

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Photographer: Tom Starkweather/Bloomberg

"Coca-Cola Large Coca-Cola", a 1961-62 painting by Andy Warhol, sits on display during a fall auction preview at Sotheby's in New York. The work may fetch up to $25 million during the Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale next month.

Gund Rothko

A delicate yellow-and-orange 1955 Mark Rothko is another Sotheby’s highlight, with a high estimate of $30 million. The undisclosed seller is Boston architect Graham Gund and wife Ann, who are listed in the Rothko catalog of works as the owners. Gund is the brother of New York art patron Agnes Gund. The Gunds have owned the Rothko for 55 years.

Christie’s Nov. 10 evening sale includes Warhol’s 1962 “Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable),’’ with a high estimate of $50 million. The seller, Seattle collector Barney Ebsworth, has said he will use the proceeds to construct a church designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

A shiny blue reflective Jeff Koons steel sculpture titled “Balloon Flower (Blue)’’ is being sold by the Daimler Art Collection, estimated to sell for as much as $16 million. The price reflects some recession fallout: A magenta version of the same sculpture sold in 2008 at Christie’s for $25.8 million, establishing a record for the artist at auction.

Fleshy Nude

The auctions begin Nov. 2 with an Impressionist and modern sale at Sotheby’s. The headliner is Amedeo Modigliani’s 1917 fleshy nude, “Nu Assis sur un Divan (La Belle Romaine),’’ estimated to sell for more than $40 million.

“It’s generally acknowledged that Modigliani’s greatest achievements are these nudes. They are like centerfolds from another era,’’ said Sotheby’s head of Impressionist and modern art Simon Shaw.

While Christie’s failed to rope in a blockbuster picture for its Impressionist and modern sale, it offers a solid field. Joan Miro’s blue-and-yellow 1938 “L’Air,’’ with biomorphic forms frolicking in outer space is estimated to fetch as much as $18 million.

The season’s wild card is the Russian-backed third-place house Phillips de Pury, which is opening a new midtown salesroom. In addition to its usual contemporary-art sale on Nov. 8, the auction house tapped influential private dealer Philippe Segalot to assemble an extra session, including a black-and-white 1962 Warhol titled “Men in Her Life,’’ featuring Elizabeth Taylor’s romantic conquests, estimated to fetch about $40 million.

Experts are bullish about sale prospects. “It feels like a stronger place to be than when everything was so frothy,’’ said Suzanne Gyorgy, head of Citi Private Bank’s art advisory service.

To contact the reporter on the story: Lindsay Pollock in New York at lindsaypollock@yahoo.com;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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