WSJ, Kelly Crow:
Christie's International auctioned $232 million of post-war and contemporary art at its evening sale in New York on Tuesday, led by a record-setting $28.6 million waxy painting of an American flag by Jasper Johns.
"Flag," which was completed in 1966 and hung for decades in the home of the late "Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton, sold to New York art adviser Michael Altman. It was priced to sell for up to $15 million.
Mr. Crichton's collection of colorful, mid-century artworks helped the sale beat Christie's own presale expectations as well as eclipsing the house's $93.7 million sale last May -- proving collectors are once again willing to chase after newer works that carry the right pedigree.
The mood was chipper throughout the sale, with collectors like hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen and former superagent Michael Ovitz taking spots in skyboxes overlooking the auction house's crowded sales room, where others like entrepreneur Eli Broad and author Salman Rushdie took their seats. Two men on the front row wore ballcaps: fashion designer Marc Jacobs and fund manager John Angelo, who sits on rival Sotheby's board.
Yet the night unquestionably belonged to Jasper Johns, the artist from Georgia whose seminal series of late 1950s and 1960s depictions of flags, targets and alphabets represent some of the earliest examples of Pop art. Christie's sold eight of the artist's works for a combined $43.6 million, including the $4.1 million "Figure O."
The sale's other big winner was Andy Warhol, whose 1965 diptych of a lavender-faced Elizabeth Taylor, "Silver Liz," sold for $18.3 million, above its $15 million high estimate. Warhol's portraits of Hollywood starlets like Ms. Taylor or Marilyn Monroe are among his most coveted pieces, and at least four bidders competed for "Liz," with New York dealer Dominique Levy getting it.
The Christie's sale also amounted to a test of Robert Rauschenberg's market. Three telephone bidders went after his 1960-61 "Studio Painting" – one of the artist's so-called "Combines" because he hung a small bag on a clothesline that runs between the work's pair of painted canvases. A Christie's specialist who often represents Parisian collectors won it for $11 million, over its $9 million high estimate. A Rauschenberg silkscreen, "Trapeze," also sold for $6.3 million. (Final prices, unlike estimates, include the auction house's additional fee.)
Altogether, 74 of the 79 works offered found buyers, helping the sale reach 98% of its potential total value -- one of the most successful showings since the recession. The Crichton estate's 31 pieces alone sold for $93.3 million, against a $69.6 million high estimate. The sale broke at least five records for artists including Johns, Mark Tansey, Sam Francis, Lee Bontecou and Christopher Wool. Around 74% of the offerings went to American buyers, the auction house said.
Other sellers included Mr. Ovitz: Christie's helped him sell a pair of works, including Neo Rauch's surreal café painting, "Seek," for $1 million. The work had been priced to sell for between $800,000 and $1.2 million. Mr. Ovitz also sold Eric Fischl's 1984 image of a nude woman basking in her own reflection, "Vanity," for $1 million.
Sotheby's holds its post-war and contemporary sale on Wednesday, and boutique auctioneer Phillips de Pury follows on Thursday.