Jeff Koons, Franz Kline Set Records at Christie’s Sale

'Statue of Liberty'
Andy Warhol’s 1962 “Statue of Liberty'' is expected to fetch more than $35 million at Christie's next month. The work is the top lot by estimate of the evening postwar and contemporary sale on Nov. 14. Source: Christie's via Bloomberg

A giant tulip sculpture by Jeff Koons and a 1957 painting by Franz Kline sold for new auction records at Christie’s in New York tonight.

The Kline work sold for $40.4 million nearly quadrupling his previous auction record of $9.3 million -- achieved yesterday at Sotheby’s with a smaller, 1956 canvas from the collection of Sidney Kohl, co-founder of closely held finance firm Alliant Co., and his wife, Dorothy.

The Koons work sold for $33.7 million, including fees, breaking a previous record of $25.8 million

In the record-breaking Christie’s Kline, an untitled work, black brush strokes collide on a white background. Measuring more than 6 feet high and 9 feet wide, it was expected to bring $20 million to $30 million.

It had belonged to Robert Mnuchin, a partner at L&M Arts gallery and formerly an equity-trading chief at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Entertainment mogul David Geffen also at one time owned the work, which has been exhibited at the Menil Collection in Houston and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

“It’s one of the greatest paintings Kline ever made and particularly impressive given its scale,” said Matthew Armstrong, curator of Donald Marron’s collection at Lightyear Capital LLC in New York. “It’s like a great culminating musical phrase in which each note is soaring, intense and pitch-perfect.”

Kline’s Importance

Until this season, Kline’s top price at auction was $6.4 million, achieved in a 2005 Christie’s sale. Privately, four paintings by the artist sold for more than $20 million each, according to Koji Inoue, a Christie’s vice president in New York.

“People arrive into that category one by one,” said art dealer Asher Edelman, referring to artists whose work sells for more than $20 million, including Kline’s peers Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still and Willem de Kooning. “Kline is a major Abstract Expressionist painter. He’s just as important as the rest of them.”

Christie’s guaranteed the seller of the Kline an undisclosed minimum price.

Muse highlights include Joe Mysak on books, Philip Boroff on theater.

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