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Warhol Portrait, Koons Bears to Boost $116 Million London Sales

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Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Self-portraits by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat will star in contemporary-art auctions in London set to raise at least 72.5 million pounds ($116 million).

A pair of Jeff Koons bear sculptures, a Gerhard Richter abstract and a pile of Ai Weiwei porcelain flower seeds are also among lots in the evening mixed-owner sales starting Feb. 15. The total minimum estimates are 14 percent higher than in 2010.

Sotheby’s, Christie’s International and Phillips de Pury & Co.’s sales come as contemporary-art dealers look for price rises. Worldwide auctions slumped more than 50 percent in 2009. The once-booming market is still recovering, according to the French-based data company Artprice.

“Things were bad in 2009,” said Anders Petterson, founder of the London-based analysts ArtTactic. “Sales were solid and robust in 2010. The question is whether growth will continue in 2011 or flatten out.”

In November in New York, the three auction houses’ evening sales raised $553 million. The total was just 17 percent lower than in May 2008, when the contemporary-art boom was at its height, ArtTactic said in its latest confidence survey.

The Richter work from 1990, estimated at as much as 7 million pounds, leads Sotheby’s offering of 60 lots on Feb. 15, which may raise as much as 43.4 million pounds.

“Collectors feel a sense of security with Richter,” Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s European chairman of contemporary art, said in an interview. “He’s at the end of his career and his abstract and figurative works are equally valued.”

Weiwei Seeds

The New York-based auction house is selling 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of the same Ai Weiwei hand-painted sunflower seeds that are currently covering the floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. They may fetch at least 80,000 pounds.

The 1967 Warhol has been in a U.S. private collection since 1974 and is estimated to sell for as much as 5 million pounds at Christie’s on Feb. 16. Koons’s 1988 “Winter Bears,” also offered at auction for the first time, has a low estimates of 2.5 million pounds. Christie’s auction of 64 lots may raise as much as 51.9 million pounds.

Phillips’s Feb. 17 auction has 29 lots that are estimated to make at least 5.8 million pounds. Basquiat’s 1985 painting “Overrun,” showing a stylized self-portrait in a graffiti-scrawled urban landscape, has a top estimate of 1.5 million pounds.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at sreyburn@hotmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.