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Cy Twombly canvas from Sydney and Audrey Irmas auctions for $70.5 million

An abstract canvas by Cy Twombly that once belonged to Los Angeles attorney and collector Sydney Irmas and his wife, Audrey, fetched $70.5 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York on Wednesday.

Proceeds from the Twombly sale are expected to go toward building a new events center at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown that is set for 2019 and that will bear the name of Audrey Irmas.

The contemporary art auction, which saw $294.9 million in total sales, was part of the fall auction season in New York and London. Earlier this week, Christie's saw a Modigliani painting go for $170.4 million, the second highest amount for a painting to be sold at auction.

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It was later revealed that the Modigliani painting, which dates from around 1917-18 and is titled "Nu Couché," was purchased by the prominent Chinese collector Liu Yiqian.  

On Wednesday, Twombly's "Untitled (New York City)" brought in $70.5 million, which is believed to be an auction high for the late artist. The canvas, which had been expected to go for more than $60 million, is one of his "blackboard" creations that depicts scrawlings that resemble writing on a chalkboard.

Sotheby's said the canvas was sold to benefit the Audrey Irmas Foundation for Social Justice. As previously reported by The Times, the foundation is expected to set aside $30 million from the sale to help fund the 55,000-square-foot Audrey Irmas Pavilion at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which will be designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the firm led by Rem Koolhaas.

The pavilion, which has a projected estimated cost of $60 million to $65 million, is expected to be used for various temple functions as well as events for other groups. 

The Irmas were longtime arts benefactors in Southern California and donated items from their collection to the L.A. County Museum of Art. Audrey Irmas is a life trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. (Sydney Irmas died in 1996.)

L.A. typically doesn't get to see much of the auction season, but this month, Sotheby's is taking the unusual step of  bringing 25 works valued at more than $50 million to its gallery location on Sunset Boulevard ahead of their sale.

The display, set for Nov. 17 and 18, will include works by old masters, including a small Raphael piece from the collection of the late A. Alfred Taubman, whose massive collection is being sold by the auction house he once led.

Also on view will be Orazio Gentileschi's "Danaë," a 17th century Baroque work that is estimated to sell for between $25 million to $35 million.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT 

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