Christie's Postwar and Contemporary Sale Takes $388 Million, Led by a Record-Smashing $87-Million Rothko

Powered by a stunning handful of super-trophies, including a sublime and record-eclipsing Mark Rothko masterpiece from 1961, Christie’s delivered a $388,488,000 Postwar and Contemporary at evening sale. The tally zoomed beyond the $236-329 million pre-sale estimate and nicked the May 2007 high water mark of $384.6 million, harkening back to a time generally acknowledged as the zenith of the last art boom. It easily surpassed last May’s performance that realized $301.6 million, though it still trailed the house’s all-time high evening tally for a various-owner sale, set by the $491 million worth of Impressionist and Modern art sold back in November 2006.

Tonight, 11 artist records were set while 40 of the 56 lots sold made over a million dollars. Of those, nine hurdled the ten million dollar mark and 18 went over five million dollars. With the seminal bidding action at times resembling a raucous fireworks display of unrestrained exuberance, only three lots failed to sell, making for a tiny five percent buy-in rate by lot and one percent by value.

There were other epoch-making features of the night as well. It marked the last appearance of star auctioneer Christopher Burge, who navigated the sale with exceptional élan, at times impatient at certain bidders’ attempts to split bids at already outrageous sums. “We’ve messed around long enough,” snapped Burge as he rapped his gavel after a long bidding battle for Gerhard Richter’s color-stroked, square “Abstraktes Bild (798-3)” (1993) (est. $14-18 million), which sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for a record $21,810,500. Larry Gagosian was the underbidder in a deep-pocketed field that attracted at least a half-dozen bidders including dealer Jose Mugrabi.

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