Warhol tops a hot night at Christie’s

Times Staff Writer

The boom in the contemporary art market continued Wednesday night at Christie’s New York in a $92.4-million sale that sparked fierce competition and set records for 10 artists. Pop artist Andy Warhol’s 1963 painting “Mustard Race Riot” brought the top price, $15.1 million, but more recently made pieces by relative newcomers also found eager buyers.

“Not Afraid of Love,” a life-size polyester styrene and resin elephant draped in a sheet with cut-out eyeholes, made four years ago by Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan, soared past its $900,000 high estimate to sell for $2.7 million. That surpassed the record $2 million paid in May for the artist’s “The Ballad of Trotsky,” a taxidermic horse suspended from the ceiling.

In the most extreme example of demand upsetting expectations, “Jule-die Vrou,” a searing red portrait by South African artist Marlene Dumas, valued at $200,000 to $300,000, was knocked down at $1.2 million. There was also strong interest in sculptor Lee Bontecou, who is enjoying a major revival. Her 1960 untitled canvas-and-steel wall piece, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, was sold for $847,500, a record for the artist.

“It took a long time to finish the sale, but not because I was struggling for bids,” auctioneer Christopher Burge said when the action ended. “I was fighting them off for the most part.”


That wasn’t much of an exaggeration. Although Christie’s racked up slightly less in sales than Sotheby’s did the previous night, Christie’s auction was a much livelier affair, with bidding throughout the room and on banks of telephones. Thirty-six of the 63 works consigned were sold for more than their high estimates, and only four pieces went begging. (All prices include Christie’s commission: 19.5% of the first $100,000 and 12% of the rest.)