Sotheby’s $105m sale sets Warhol record

Andy Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” sold for $105.4m in New York on Wednesday night, fetching the second highest price ever paid at auction for contemporary art and setting a new world record for one of America’s most revered pop artists.

The lot quickly smashed through an initial high price estimate of $80m, in a tense battle between two anonymous telephone bidders in the densely packed Sotheby’s auction room.

The sale came less than 24 hours after Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” became the most expensive work ever sold at auction when it went for $142.4m at Christie’s on Tuesday.

Warhol’s 8 foot by 13 foot “Double Disaster” silkscreen diptych was the star lot of a postwar and contemporary sale that brought in a total of $380.6m, the highest ever for a Sotheby’s auction. The evening had a sell-through rate of 89 per cent, while a further 87 per cent of works were sold for prices at or above their estimates.

Several standout pieces to go under the hammer came from the art collection of beleaguered Wall Street hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, whose SAC Capital Advisors fund last week said it would plead guilty to insider trading violations and pay a record $1.2bn fine.

The billionaire sold “Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz)” by Warhol, a 1963 acrylic and ink canvas depicting the late Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor, for $20.3m – just ahead of its asking price. Another Cohen piece, Gerhard Richter’s “A.B. Courbet”, was sold for $26.5m after a fierce telephone bidding war between two collectors from the UK and Mexico.

The sale was attended by many of New York’s most prominent dealers and collectors, including Jose Mugrabi, Philippe Vergne, Peter Brandt, Mike Ovitz and Sotheby’s majority stakeholder Dan Loeb. Helly Nahmad, the billionaire art dealer, was seen in a skybox with Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Sotheby’s has been under pressure from activist investors including Mr Loeb to review its managerial and operational practices.

But Wednesday’s record sale capped a good fortnight for the auction house.

Earlier on Wednesday, a diamond known as the “Pink Star” broke the world record price for a gemstone after fetching $83m in Geneva, while last week’s Impressionist and Modern sale results comfortably eclipsed those of Christie’s by hitting a total of $290.2m.

Sotheby’s on Monday reported that losses narrowed in its latest quarter, citing a surge in private sales commissions and rising auction revenues. Bill Ruprecht, chief executive, said the results of a full review into the company’s capital allocation and financial policies would be released in early 2014.

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