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Warhol ‘Crash,’ Steve Cohen’s Richter Lift Sotheby’s Sale

Andy Warhol
"Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)," signed and dated '63 by Andy Warhol, sold for $105.4 million in New York at Sotheby's last night, an auction record for the artist. Source: Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG/2013 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society/Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Andy Warhol led Sotheby’s biggest auction as the Pop Art icon’s silk-screen painting “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” sold for $105.4 million in New York.

Last night’s $380.6 million contemporary-art sale was just short of the high presale estimate of $394.1 million. Auction records were established for seven artists, including Warhol, Cy Twombly, Agnes Martin and Martin Kippenberger.

Of 61 lots, just seven failed to find buyers.

The jump in contemporary-art prices -- 10 artists set records at Christie’s sale Tuesday night -- is driven in part by flush new collectors and museums amassing masterpieces, as well as investors seeking diversification, dealers and longtime collectors said.

“I am an art collector; this is not about collecting,” said former talent agent Michael Ovitz as he exited the cavernous saleroom.

The Sotheby’s tally was 45 percent smaller than Christie’s Tuesday, the biggest-ever art sale at $691.6 million, where a Francis Bacon triptych became the priciest auctioned artwork at $142.4 million.

The past two evening postwar and contemporary art evening auctions totaled almost $1.1 billion.

“For a moment last night I thought I was in the commodities market,” Ovitz said of the Christie’s sale.

More Subdued

Sotheby’s sale was more subdued than Christie’s because the material was less prized.

“They didn’t have the goods, but when they did they were very successful,” said Lucy Mitchell-Innes, a New York dealer.

Warhol’s “Car Crash” was estimated at more than $60 million. (Prices include fees; estimates do not.) The 1963 work was won by a phone client of Charles Moffett, vice chairman of Sotheby’s Americas, who vied with at least two other highly determined telephone bidders.

More than 8 feet tall and 13 feet wide, it consists of two canvases. One features five rows of three images repeating a mangled car; the second is a blank silvery surface.

Warhol’s previous auction record was set in 2007 at Christie’s when a single-panel car-crash painting, “Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I)” sold for $71.7 million.

Another highlight was a group of paintings from hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, whose SAC Capital Advisors LP pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to pay $1.8 billion to settle insider-trading charges.

The Cohen trove tallied at least $77 million, falling short of the high presale estimate of $85 million. Sotheby’s guaranteed Cohen an undisclosed minimum price for six of the seven pieces.

Top Price

The priciest was Gerhard Richter’s 1986 abstract painting “A.B. Courbet,” which sold for $26.5 million, exceeding the $20 million high estimate. It was last shown publicly on the Pace Gallery stand at the Art Basel fair in 2012 with an asking price between $20 million and $25 million.

Warhol’s 1963 “Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz)” sold for $20.3 million against the estimate of $20 million to $30 million. The 40-inch-square canvas depicts Elizabeth Taylor’s face on an acid-yellow background.

Warhol’s 1963 “5 Deaths on Turquoise” fetched $7.3 million. Like “Liz #1,” the work had been owned by art dealer Ileana Sonnabend.

Cohen’s abstract painting by Brice Marden titled “The Attended” fetched $10.9 million, an auction record for the U.S. artist. Four of Cohen’s artworks landed among the evening’s top 10 lots.

The Mugrabi family, which sold Warhol’s “Coca-Cola (3)” for $57.3 million at Christie’s the night before, splurged on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 painting “Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers)” for $25.9 million.

The works consigned by the Dia Art Foundation to create an acquisition fund raised $38.4 million. One of them, a 1959 group of 24 drawings by Twombly called “Poems by the Sea,” sold for $21.7 million, surging past the estimate range of $6 million to $8 million.

“There are a lot of new collectors, a lot of empty walls to fill,” said New York art dealer Dominique Levy.

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