NEW YORK (AFP).- A seminal work by abstract artist Mark Rothko fetched a huge $75.1 million at Sotheby's Tuesday, while a new record was set for a Jackson Pollock drip painting as the big spenders came out in force.
"No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)" is seen by critics as one of the finest examples of Rothko's characteristic style -- a seemingly simple, but arresting juxtaposition of blocks of color.
The winning bid, reached after a prolonged bidding battle in New York, was short of the record $86.9 million paid for Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow" at Christie's in May. But it was far over the pre-sale $35-50 million estimate and highlighted a contemporary art auction full of big prizes.
The work described by Sotheby's as Rothko's "seminal, large-scale masterpiece" was selected by the artist for his landmark 1954 solo show at the Art Institute of Chicago and had been in the same collection for 30 years before coming to market.
The heated auction also saw Jackson Pollock's "Number 4, 1951," estimated at $25-35 million, sell for $40.4 million, easily breaking the previous $23 million record for works by the abstract expressionist.
Francis Bacon brought it home with his dark "Pope" fetching $29.8 million, well past the $18-25 million estimate. The Irish-born British painter's "Study for Head of Isabel Rawsthorne" got $9.3 million, inside the low end of the estimate.
In other action, Gerhard Richter's "Abstraktes Bild" sold for $17.4 million, and Willem de Kooning's "Abstraction" sold for $19.7 million, compared to the pre-sale estimates of $15-20 million.
The always bankable Andy Warhol had a strong showing with "Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice)," selling for $15.2 million, and $9.3 million for the Pop king's "The Kiss (Bela Lugosi)."
Warhol's "Suicide," estimated to sell for between $6-8 million, ended up at $16.3 million.
It was even an auction for some of the supposedly smaller fry to shine.
"Ohne Titel (Silverbild)," a stormy looking canvas done in silver, silver nitrate, silver oxide and resin by German artist Sigmar Polke, was estimated to go for between $800,000 and $1.2 million.
Final price? A whopping $4.1 million.
The roaring sale of contemporary art was in stark contrast to quiet sales of impressionist works at auctions in New York last week. On Wednesday, Christie's New York holds its contemporary sale.
On Monday, Christie's held a separate, $17 million sale of Warhols as part of a planned sell-off of the Andy Warhol Foundation's entire collection.
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts announced in September that it was dispersing of its collection to bolster its grant-making capabilities, with Christie's the long-term partner. Some of the works will be donated to museums.
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