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Pop ‘Kiss’ Sets Record as N.Y. Art Sales Open

TIMES ART WRITER

A two-week series of big-ticket art auctions got off to an erratic start Monday night with a sale of contemporary works at Christie’s. Records were set for 10 artists, including $6 million for “Kiss II” by Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, but 26 of the 77 pieces failed to sell.

The Park Avenue auction house had predicted that sales would total between $49 million and $71 million, but when the final gavel fell--on an unsold work by the late Jean Michel Basquiat--the total was only $40.2 million.

Is this the end of a boom market? “If it were, we wouldn’t have these top 10 prices,” said auctioneer Christopher Burge, referring to the highest priced lots, which commanded $1.1 million to $6 million apiece.

Prime among them was Lichtenstein’s classic Pop painting, depicting a comic-strip-style couple kissing. Fujii Gallery of Tokyo bought the bright-colored work for a client identified as Mr. Wanibuchi.

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The $6-million sale edged Lichtenstein’s record up from $5.5 million but failed to reach Christie’s most optimistic estimate of $7 million. Contrasted with the painting’s 1962 price of $1,000, the sale was impressive, however.

Among the auction’s successes was Jean Dubuffet’s painting, “Pese Cheveu,” sold for $5.2 million to the Richard Gray Gallery of Chicago. Bidding quickly upset the artist’s record of $2.5 million and surpassed Christie’s high estimate of $3.5 million.

New York dealer Larry Gagosian bought an untitled 1982 painting by Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning for $3.7 million and Sam Francis’ 1958-59 canvas, “Round the World,” for $1.9 million, a record for the Los Angeles-based artist.

The sale also established records for Brice Marden ($1.1 million), Eric Fischl ($715,000), Agnes Martin ($385,000), Gerhard Richter ($352,000), Jules Olitski ($352,000) and Christopher Wilmarth ($99,000).

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The most spectacular disappointment of the evening was Christie’s failure to sell a 1949 abstraction by Clyfford Still, which was valued at $3.5 million to $4.5 million. Another Still sold for $1.1 million, a record for the artist but far below the painting’s low estimate of $3 million.


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