Warhol, Koons Defy Fiscal Cliff at Christie’s Record Sale

Franz Kline 'Untitled'
"Untitled" (1957) by Franz Kline. The oil on canvas painting is estimated at $20 million to $30 million. Source: Christie's via Bloomberg

On a day when U.S. stocks lost more than $240 billion in value, Christie’s held its largest-ever postwar and contemporary sale, setting records for eight artists including Franz Kline, Jeff Koons, Donald Judd and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The $412.3 million tally last night in New York surpassed the high estimate of $411.8 million. Just six of 73 lots failed to find buyers. Presale estimates don’t include the buyer’s premium, while the sale total does.

“It’s a perfect storm of having good quality and fresh material,” said Todd Levin, director of Levin Art Group in New York. “People seem comfortable taking excess capital and putting it into art.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 1.5 percent yesterday to the lowest level since June, on concern about the budget debate and conflict in Israel. U.S. lawmakers need to reach a budget agreement to avoid a so-called fiscal cliff of $607 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts next year.

At the auction, Andy Warhol’s 1962 “Statue of Liberty” was the top lot, selling for $43.8 million. It had belonged to German entrepreneur Erich Marx, whose art collection became the core of the Hamburger Bahnhof contemporary-art museum in Berlin.

It was later acquired by the Daros Collection in Zurich, which sold it privately to the current undisclosed consignor, according to Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s.

Brando’s Bike

Another Warhol, a 1966 portrait of leather-clad Marlon Brando on a motorcycle, went for $23.7 million. The work was consigned by Donald L. Bryant, a former trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, who bought it for $5 million at Christie’s in 2003.

“I was prepared to go to $40 million,” said art dealer David Nahmad, the patriarch of the family, who won the bidding. “For me, it was the best buy of the sale.”

An untitled 1981 Basquiat painting fetched $26.4 million, exceeding his previous record of $20.1 million set by Christie’s in London in June.

Depicting a skeletal figure with a halo above his head and fish in his hand, the work was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in the early 1990s and at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel in 2010.

It was consigned by Patrick Demarchelier, a fashion photographer of supermodels Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. Demarchelier’s images have appeared on more than 30 Vogue covers.

In 1988, it came on the auction block with an estimate range of $20,000 to $25,000, fetching $110,000.

Record ‘Tulips’

Koons’s record was for the sculpture “Tulips” (1995-2004). At $33.7 million, it was the second-priciest work for a living artist. It smashed his previous record of $25.8 million, set for a “Balloon flower - Magenta” sculpture in London in 2008.

“These artists have achieved a level of recognition globally,” said Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Russia. “No one questions their quality. The only question is how much you have to pay to acquire one.”

The record Kline sold for $40.4 million, quadrupling his previous auction record of $9.3 million, achieved Tuesday at Sotheby’s. Last night’s untitled work, more than 6 feet high and 9 feet wide, depicts black brush strokes colliding on a white background.

David Geffen

It had belonged to Robert Mnuchin, a partner at L&M Arts gallery and former 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.”

One of the biggest casualties was consigned by Steven Cohen, founder of SAC Capital Advisors. The 1983 painting by German artist Gerhard Richter, estimated at $9 million to $12 million, failed to reach its undisclosed reserve price.

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. Presale estimates don’t include the buyer’s premium.

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

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