Bloomberg News: Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Sale
Warhol’s ‘200 One Dollar Bills’ Fetches $43.8 Million in N.Y.

By Lindsay Pollock and Philip Boroff
— An Andy Warhol painting of 200 dollar bills was sold for $43.8 million at a New York art auction by London-based art collector Pauline Karpidas, more than 100 times what she paid in 1986.

Five bidders vied for Warhol’s 1962 “200 One Dollar Bills” at the Sotheby’s sale last night and it went to an unidentified phone buyer. The 7 1/2-foot wide silkscreen canvas comprises repetitive images of one-dollar bills, reproduced in tones of black on grey, with a blue Treasury seal. Karpidas offered the work, according to two people familiar with the situation. She paid $385,000 for the painting at a 1986 Sotheby’s sale.

“We’ve seen nothing like this recently,” said New York dealer Tony Shafrazi. “This is a masterpiece.”

Competition for the Warhol painting was the highlight of the sale and underscored returning buying confidence to the art market, pummeled a year ago by the world financial crisis. The auction, which started three hours after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed at a 13-month high, tallied $134.4 million, against the company’s high estimate of $97.7 million, with just two of the 54 lots unsold.

On Tuesday, Christie’s International’s sale took $74.2 million as 85 percent of lots found buyers. Last night’s results prompted some dealers to proclaim the end of the market slump.

“The art vacation is over,” said New York art dealer Jack Tilton, commenting on the Sotheby’s auction. “Art has come back more than stocks or housing.”

Lowered Estimates

Others, including art adviser Todd Levin, ascribed the high selling rates to the lowered estimates on lots. Sotheby’s total yesterday paled against the company’s May 2008 record tally of $362 million.

“The auction houses got realistic quickly enough,” said Levin. “Estimates have come down 50 to 75 percent; expectations have been lowered to such a degree that everything looks rosy.”

The fashion designer Valentino Garavani bought David Hockney’s painting “California Art Collector” for $7.9 million and the Jean Dubuffet sculpture “Clochepoche” for $1.1 million at yesterday’s auction, which he declared “bellissima,” Italian for “beautiful.” Michael Ovitz and hedge-fund manager Thomas Sandell were also at the sale.

Another winner was Warhol’s radiant 1965 red and green “Self Portrait,” which sold for $6.1 million to London jeweler Laurence Graff, against a $1.5 million high estimate. The painting was a gift from Warhol to Cathy Naso, a former receptionist at the artist’s drug- and sex-addled Factory, who had owned the painting since 1967. She kept it in the closet for 42 years for safekeeping, according to Sotheby’s.

Slow Start

The sale got off to a slow start, with 20 lots from the estate of an Ohio couple. Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers’s collection tallied $24.5 million and included Alice Neel’s 1970 “Jackie Curtis and Rita Red,” depicting a striking pair of cross-dressers, which sold for an artist auction of $1.65 million, triple the high estimate.

The sale also included four lots that Dutch financier Louis Reijtenbagh was selling anonymously. The collector settled lawsuits with banks earlier this year and sold $58.5 million of art at Sotheby’s evening Impressionist and modern sale last week.

One of Reijtenbagh’s offerings, Jean-Paul Riopelle’s “Filets Frontiere,” estimated to sell for up to $1.2 million, was pulled before the sale, at the financier’s request.

Dubuffet’s child-like painting of Paris, the 1961 “Trinite Champs-Elysees,” which Reijtenbach paid $5.2 million for at Sotheby’s in New York in May 2006, fetched an artist auction record of $6.1 million.

“The auction speaks for itself,” said Chicago collector Stefan Edlis, after Sotheby’s sale. “Collectors are suddenly more willing to part with their money.”

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