Christie's and Sotheby's racked up close to a billion dollars this week in just two New York sales of contemporary art, making one small corner of the world appear as if the global financial crisis had never happened.
Late Wednesday, Christie's blew away the records for auction splurges with what it said was the highest-grossing contemporary auction ever, raising $412.24 million dollars.
"This evening's sale set a new record total for any Post-War and Contemporary Art sale. Over the past six years, Christie's has led this market first over the $200 million, then over the $300 million, and now over the $400 million barrier," said Brett Gorvy, head of contemporary art.
Leading the way was a canvas of violent black brushstrokes by abstract expressionist Franz Kline that sold for $40.4 million, four times as much as his previous auction record price.
Christie's had estimated the painting would go for between $20 million and $30 million. The result suddenly thrust Kline into the front ranks of the abstract expressionist market, where the likes of Mark Rothko hold sway.
Andy Warhol's "Statue of Liberty" sold for $43.76 million, while another Warhol, "Marlon," which depicts the actor Marlon Brando in familiar brooding pose, sold for $23.7 million, above the high end of the pre-sale estimate.
Jeff Koons' sculpture "Tulips," featuring his trademark shiny, colored metal, fetched $33.7 million, while a Roy Lichtenstein, "Nude with Red Shirt," sold for $28 million, far above the $18 million high estimate.
Another home-run for Christie's was an untitled Jean-Michel Basquiat work that went for $26.4 million, while Rothko's "Black Stripe (Orange, Gold and Black)," went for $21.4 million, just above the high estimate.
Gerhard Richter's "Abstraktes Bild (779-2)," estimated at $12-18 million, sold for $15.3 million.
The exuberance at Christie's near Manhattan's Rockefeller Center was nearly matched the previous evening at Sotheby's, further uptown.
Total sales on Tuesday reached $375.15 million, "the best auction result in any category in the company's history," Sotheby's said. The combined estimates of all lots had been between $277-374 million.
"This has been an extraordinary year for contemporary art at Sotheby's," said Tobias Meyer, Contemporary Art head at Sotheby's. "Tonight's record results bring our 2012 total to well over $1 billion."
There, the big star was Rothko's "No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)," which sold for $75.1 million.
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 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 wildly over the pre-sale $35-50 million estimate.
Also notable was Jackson Pollock's "Number 4, 1951," estimated at $25-35 million and selling for $40.4 million, easily breaking the previous $23 million record for works by the abstract expressionist.
By contrast, the big sales last week of Impressionist art were considered a let-down, with a third of lots failing to sell -- even if Sotheby's did manage to sell Picasso's "Nature morte aux tulipes," painted in 1932, for $41.5 million.