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Roy Lichtenstein canvas pops $43 million record

10 november 2011, 13:52
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 "I Can See the Whole Room...and There's Nobody in It!" by Roy Lichtenstein at Chistie's in London. ©Reuters
"I Can See the Whole Room...and There's Nobody in It!" by Roy Lichtenstein at Chistie's in London. ©Reuters
A Pop Art canvas by Roy Lichtenstein, "I Can See the Whole Room!... and There's Nobody in It!," smashed the previous world record for the contemporary artist, selling for $43.2 million Tuesday, AFP reports.

The sale at Christie's beat the artist's previous auction record of $42.6 million and led a strong performance across the board. The contemporary art auction reaped a total of $247.6 million, bettering the presale low estimate of $226 million and notching up record prices for 16 artists.

"I Can See the Whole Room!..." was executed in 1961 with oil and graphite in Lichtenstein's familiar cartoon style, depicting a stern male face peering out from the canvas through a peephole and featuring the work's title in a speech bubble.

Bidding started at a heated pace for the star of the evening sale in Manhattan, opening at $27 million and hitting $34 million within 15 seconds, before shifting down a gear.

Other big sellers included a 1956 oil work by Mark Rothko, "White Cloud," for $18.6 million, and an enormous bronze sculpture of a spider -- so big that it was exhibited outside Christie's, towering over the sidewalk -- for $10.7 million.

An Andy Warhol titled "Silver Liz" sold for $16.3 million, at the low end of the presale estimate, and very much "a bargain," according to one Christie's official.

Not every work sold. Notable flops included Francis Bacon's "Study of a Man Talking," which was predicted to sell for between $12-$18 million, but found no buyers.

But Brett Gorvy, head of Christie's contemporary art, celebrated what he said were "very strong results," with 90 percent of Tuesday's lots going under the hammer.

Bidding for the Lichtenstein was "very heated," he said, while collectors were also "bidding very aggressively" in other parts of the auction.

"The overriding message," he said, was "high quality, rarity of works and very high, very prominent provenances."

Asked to describe the geographical pattern of bids, he said they came from a broad international range. "The top 10 collectors of the world -- they were participating tonight," he said.

Christie's described the Lichtenstein painting as a "seminal museum-quality work, which has been unseen on the market" since 1988.

"This picture has been exhibited and published widely, in part because it so perfectly encapsulates the wisdom and wit of Lichtenstein's greatest works, investigating the concepts and processes of painting through the use of popular imagery," Christie's said in a statement.

On Wednesday, rival Sotheby's holds its own contemporary evening sale.

Last week, both auction houses held their autumn evening impressionist and modern sales, with Sotheby's scoring a big success with the $40.4 million sale of a Gustav Klimt landscape, and Christie's failing to sell a Degas sculpture.

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