Andy Warhol’s painting of a Coca-Cola bottle sold for $35.4 million at Sotheby’s yesterday, making the artist the star of New York’s contemporary art auctions for two nights running as the market recovers slowly from a slump.
While eight bidders vied for the 7-foot-tall Warhol, they failed to reproduce the drama at rival Phillips de Pury & Co. a day earlier, when another 1962 Warhol, of actress Elizabeth Taylor, sold for $63 million.
“It was not frothy,” said dealer Harry Blain after the $222.5 million sale, the largest in the category since May 2008. “It was good, solid, considered buying, nothing outlandish.”
Author James Frey, fashion designer Valentino Garavani and Michael Dell’s money manager, Glenn Fuhrman, were at the front of the saleroom as 91 percent of the 54 lots found buyers. Five artist auction records were set, including Julie Mehretu and Larry Rivers, helping the total rise just above the $214.5 million presale high estimate, which does not include commissions. A year ago, Sotheby’s contemporary sale tallied $134 million.
“It was incredibly strong considering that we are kicking ourselves out of a recession,” said New York dealer Jack Tilton.
Warhol dominates the week’s contemporary sales, with 19 works at Sotheby’s and Christie’s International. Tonight, Christie’s offers his 1962 “Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable),’’ with a high estimate of $50 million. The artist, who died in 1987, has seen a revival at auctions since prices for contemporary works slumped in 2008.
‘Name Your Price’
“Warhol has been the driver of the postwar- and contemporary-art market since the decline,” said art adviser Mary Hoeveler before the sale. “The appetite at the very top seems insatiable. You can name your price.”
Warhol’s Coke painting was sold last night by curator and artist Elizabeth Richebourg Rea, who acquired the piece for $143,000 at Christie’s in 1983. Titled “Coca-Cola [Large Coca-Cola],” it mimics a soft-drink advertisement Warhol found in Pittsburgh’s Byzantine Catholic World newspaper for the Quaker State Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Warhol made four paintings of Coke bottles, one of which belongs to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the artist’s hometown.
Warhol’s cobalt blue 1986 “Last Supper,” based on Leonardo da Vinci’s version, fetched $6.8 million, topping the $6 million estimate. The seller was Stuttgart-based collector Josef Froehlich, who acquired the work for $178,500 in 1994, dealers said.
Warhol wasn’t the only pop artist hawking sugary beverages. Roy Lichtenstein’s 1962 “Ice Cream Soda,” sold for $14.1 million, near the bottom end of its $12 million-to-$18 million estimate range.
An ethereal yellow 1955 work by Mark Rothko, a stalwart of previous Sotheby’s sales, sold for $22.5 million on a single phone bid to an Asian buyer, the auction house said.
The seller was Boston-based architect Graham Gund, who acquired the Rothko in 1969, according to a catalog of the artist’s works.
Two canvases by German painter Gerhard Richter were among the night’s priciest. A wall-sized decorative abstract 1992 painting sold for $11.2 million and a 1966 work based on a photo of sailors fetched $13.2 million from Houston dealer Robert McClain. The second painting came from Germany’s Stiftung Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen.
San Francisco dealer Anthony Meier snagged one of the evening’s most sought-after lots: Louise Bourgeois’ spindly “Spider III,” a 33-inch tall bronze that went for $3.6 million -- demolishing an $800,000 estimate. Bourgeois, famous for her towering outdoor spider sculptures, died earlier this year.
“It was something my client was very passionate about,” Meier said.
Sotheby’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.