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Thu 10 Nov 2011 06:10 PM

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Lichtenstein work sets $43m record at Christie’s

Sale of 1961 painting helps London-based auction house rake in $247.6m

Lichtenstein work sets $43m record at Christie’s
Roy Lichtenstein’s 1961 painting of a man looking through a peephole

Roy Lichtenstein’s 1961 painting of a man looking through a
peephole sold for $43.2 million last night in New York, one of 13 records set
at an auction of contemporary art by Christie’s International.

As actor Leonardo DiCaprio looked on in blue jeans and blue
baseball cap, the pop artist’s “I Can See the Whole Room!… And There’s Nobody
in It!” helped London-based Christie’s reach a total of $247.6m. Records were
set for Louise Bourgeois, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy and Barbara Kruger.
Andreas Gursky’s $4.3m landscape, “Rhein II,” was the most expensive photograph
sold at auction.

“People would rather have art or gold instead of paper
money,” collector Eli Broad said as he left the midtown salesroom after the
auction.

While the sale failed to reach Christie’s low estimate of
$226.5m before commissions, a rising number of guarantees helped the auction
house sell 90 percent of the 91 lots offered, beating the 62 percent rate at
its Impressionist and modern art sale last week.

Paris dealer Pierre Loudmer blamed “greedy sellers with
optimistic estimates” for that flop. He said it was as if last night’s sale was
insulated from economic turmoil in Europe.

“We’re just in a cloud here,” he said.

The Lichtenstein, the top lot, was one of 16 guaranteed
artworks, 10 of which were backed by third parties, the auction house said. At
the equivalent sale in 2010, only seven lots were guaranteed.

The sale began with 26 works from the collection of software
pioneer Peter Norton, all of which sold. The group was led by McCarthy’s
humorous sculpture “Tomato Head (Green)” which fetched $4.6m, four times its
low estimate.

Kara Walker’s sprawling 1996 frieze “African’t,” made with
25 cut-paper silhouettes, went for $386,500. Takashi Murakami looked on as his
cheerful sculptural mushroom ensemble, “DOB in the Strange Forest,” went for
$2.8m.

Art dealer Robert Mnuchin of L & M Arts won Glenn
Ligon’s 2000 black text canvas, “Untitled (Stranger in the Village #17)” for
$1.2m, quadrupling the low estimate and establishing another artist record.

The sale is part of the two-week autumn art series in New
York by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other auction houses that are estimated to
raise more than $1.1bn. Collectors are bidding after six months of volatility
in global financial markets as European governments struggle to avert default
on debts.

“People no longer care for financial products,” said Mark
Vanmoerkerke, a Belgian collector. “There’s a lot of doubt. This, you take it
home with you.”

The Lichtenstein, from the collection of Courtney Ross, the
widow of former Time Warner Chief Executive Officer Steven J. Ross, had a high
estimate of $45m. She was guaranteed an undisclosed minimum price financed by
third parties. The painting was acquired at auction in 1988 for $2.1m.

Lichtenstein’s previous record of $42.6m was set a year ago
for “Ohhh…Alright. . .” (1964), depicting a sexy redhead on the phone.

Bourgeois’s bronze spider, made in 1996, fetched $10.7m,
more than triple the low estimate.

Christie’s charges buyers 25 percent of the hammer price up
to $50,000, plus 20 percent from $50,000 to $1m, and 12 percent above $1m.
Pre-sale estimates don’t include the buyer’s premium.

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