May 14, 2014 / 4:23 AM / 4 years ago

Abstract work by Barnett Newman tops Christie's contemporary art sale

NEW YORK (Reuters) - American artist Barnett Newman’s abstract painting “Black Fire I” sold for $84.2 million at Christie’s contemporary art sale on Tuesday, setting a new auction record for the artist and confirming the buoyancy of the global art market.

The price, including buyer’s premium, easily surpassed the previous record of $43.8 million set a year earlier for Newman’s “Onement VI,” and topped the $80.8 million a private Asian buyer paid at Tuesday’s sale for Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards”.

All but four of the 72 lots on offer were sold as the post-war and contemporary sale also broke records for works by American sculptor Alexander Calder, sculptor and artist Joseph Cornell and several others.

Apart from the two top lots, four more fetched over $50 million, with deep-pocketed collectors from around the globe vying for the most coveted works of art.

“These are incredible statistics,” Brett Gorvy, chairman and head of post-war and contemporary Art at Christie’s, told a press conference after the sale. “We saw phenomenal success and phenomenal results.”

Bacon’s 1984 three-panel painting of Edwards, an East End London bar manager who became the acclaimed artist’s confidant and an inseparable companion, was expected to be the highlight of the sale with a pre-sale estimate of around $80 million.

Bacon holds the record for the highest priced work ever sold at auction with $142.4 million paid for his “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” in New York in November 2013.

Art sales have been escalating since the record-breaking Bacon price last year as the super wealthy see high-end works of art as safe havens for their money. Asia has become a dominant player in the global art market, particularly in post-war and contemporary art sales.

The European Fine Art Foundation annual report showed the global art market rose 8 percent to $65.9 billion last year, the highest level since 2007.

Other highlights of the Christie’s sale included Mark Rothko’s “Untitled,” an oil on canvass abstract work which fetched $66.2 million, Andy Warhol’s “Race Riot,” which fetched $62.8 million and his “White Marilyn,” an image of the Hollywood actress that was made after her death in 1962 and brought in $41 million, more than double its pre-sale estimate.

Calder’s 1957 hanging mobile “Poisson volant (Flying Fish) sold for $25.9 million.

On Monday Christie’s sold works of contemporary art worth $134.6 million to buyers from more than two dozen countries, and setmore than a dozen world auction records for major artists.

Last week the auction house achieved its best New York Impressionist, modern sale result in four years, selling $286 million worth of art, including Claude Monet’s water lilies painting “Nympheas,” which fetched $27 million.

Pablo Picasso’s “Le Sauvetage,” led an Impressionist and modern art auction by rival Sotheby’s last week, selling for $31.5 million in an evening sale that took in $219 million.

Sotheby’s will hold its post-war and contemporary sale on Wednesday.

Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Richard Pullin

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