Lichtenstein’s $43 Million Pouting Redhead Helps Revive Market

Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 painting of a pouting redhead sold for an artist record $42.6 million last night at Christie’s International in New York, as buyers stuck with 1960s pop art to sustain a market recovery.

Lichtenstein’s “Ohhh...Alright...” soared past his previous auction peak of $16.3 million, to help the closely held auctioneer reach $272.9 million in sales for the evening, its biggest total in the category since May 2008 and nearly four times last year’s result. The tally brings the sum for the three-night autumn series of postwar art auctions, including sales by rivals Phillips de Pury & Co. and Sotheby’s, to $632 million, almost triple the $216 million a year ago.

“The patient has made a full recovery,” said New York art adviser Stefano Basilico. “Not that we are back to 2007, to those crazy levels, but we are back to healthy, good shape.”

The two-hour, 75-lot sale left collectors complaining about the long evening, but that didn’t hurt results as 93 percent of lots found buyers. Auction records tumbled for six artists, including abstract painter Mark Grotjahn, mobile maker Alexander Calder, and canvas stainer Morris Louis. Americans dominated buying, taking home 63 percent of lots, according to Christie’s.

The packed salesroom included familiar power names like Princess Gloria Thurn und Taxis and Warhol Foundation President Joel Wachs. Actress Kate Hudson watched from a back corner, decked out in a brown velvet hat and leopard-spotted coat.

“It’s my first sale and it was totally fascinating,” she said. “A friend of mine was selling something.”

Single Bidder

The top lot was Lichtenstein’s comic-strip-inspired rendering, once owned by actor and art collector Steve Martin and sold by casino magnate Steve Wynn. Though the price tag was huge, a single bidder, who had contractually agreed in advance to bid, was the lone interested party.

Similarly anticlimactic was the result for the evening’s second-highest priced trophy: Andy Warhol’s six-foot tall 1962 painting of a soup can and giant can opener that sold for $23.9 million, well below the $30 million to $50 million estimate.

One Warhol collector quipped that the seminal work with a somewhat awkward composition was “too much opener, not enough can.” It was sold by Seattle collector Barney Ebsworth, whose charitable foundation will use sale proceeds to construct a chapel by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Ebsworth acquired the painting from a dealer in 1986, the same year it sold at Christie’s for $264,000.

‘Too Many Warhols’

Christie’s sale, which fell in the middle of its pre- auction estimate range of $237 million to $346 million, was the third in a series of New York contemporary evening auctions this week dominated by Warhol.

“We dealers thought: Here were too many Warhols,” said New York-based Christophe Van de Weghe. “But it was the exact opposite effect.”

On Nov. 8, Warhol’s depiction of actress Elizabeth Taylor stunned dealers by fetching $63 million at Phillips de Pury, far above its $40 million estimate. The next night the pop artist from Pittsburgh topped Sotheby’s contemporary sale with a $35 million Coke bottle.

Last night, Christie’s sold 15 of the artist’s works, including portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and a pink dollar sign that fetched $5.1 million, twice the low estimate.

Deflated Balloon

Among the few disappointments were a Jasper Johns painting that didn’t sell and a Jeff Koons sculpture. Koons’s shiny 1995- 2000 “Balloon Flower (Blue),” went for $16.9 million to New York’s L & M Arts. A hot-pink version from the same series, “Balloon Flower (Magenta)” sold at the market’s peak in 2008 for a then-record $25.8 million. Last night’s seller was the Daimler Art Collection, which had installed the work in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz.

The auction continued German painter Gerhard Richter’s winning week. The 1982 photorealist “Zwei Kerzen” went for $13 million, near the low end of the $12 million to $16 million estimate. The artist created the pair of lit candles when he turned 50 and considered his own mortality.

One of the evening’s cheaper Warhols hailed from the estate of actor Dennis Hopper. The blue streaked portrait of Hopper in a cowboy hat was one of the few lots to sell for under $1 million, attaining a hammer price of $962,500 before commissions.

“He’s a very good artist and very safe,” dealer Hugo Nathan of Dickinson Roundell Inc. said of Warhol.

Christie’s charges buyers 25 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000, plus 20 percent from $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent above $1 million.

To contact the reporter on the story: Lindsay Pollock in New York at lindsaypollock@yahoo.com; or Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net.

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

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