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  • Mark Rothko Masterpiece Sets Record at $17.4 M
    November 11, 2004 NEW YORK.

    Mark Rothko. No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray), 1954.

    After an extended bidding battle tonight at Sotheby's, a record was set for Post War master Mark Rothko when his No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray) sold for $17,368,000. The mesmerizing canvas was the highlight of Sotheby's evening sale of Contemporary Art which totaled $93,431,600, the highest total for a various owner Contemporary sale at Sotheby's since November 1989. Artist records were also established for Thomas Demand, Gilbert & George, Yoshitomo Nara, Piero Manzoni, Joan Mitchell, Mark Tansey, Richard Phillips and Matthew Barney. Twenty-four works sold for over $1 million, and the sale was 80.6% sold by lot and 88.0% sold by value.

    Tobias Meyer, tonight's auctioneer and Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art at Sotheby's, commented, "We are very, very happy with tonight's sale. We saw unbelievably determined and tenacious bidding for rare and high quality works. As I had hoped, both the Rothko and the Johns 0 through 9 really soared."

    The top price achieved tonight was for Mark Rothko's No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray) which sold for $17,368,000, against a pre-sale estimate of $9/12 million*. This large-scale and mesmerizing work, executed in 1954, a year that many consider to be the zenith of Rothko's creative powers, was one of eight works by Rothko chosen for his first museum exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954. It displays Rothko's absolute authority over color, surface, texture and composition.

    Sotheby's sale offered three outstanding works by Jasper Johns, chief among them a breathtaking work on paper entitled 0 Through 9 which sold after a deliberate battle for $10,928,000 (est. $7/9 million), doubling the previous record for any Contemporary work on paper. Johns created a series of nine paintings and one drawing entitled 0 Through 9 for his exhibition at the Gallery Rive Droite, Paris in 1961. This series demonstrated that Johns was as devoted to drawing as he was to painting, and indeed 0 Through 9 is a work of impeccable finish. This work was formerly in the collection of Mrs. Ethel Scull and was sold at Sotheby's in November of 1986 for $880,000, a record for a Contemporary drawing at the time.

    No motif is more associated with Johns' pictorial language than that of the American Flag, and tonight Untitled (Flag), painted in 1971, sold for a $4,488,000 (est. $3/4 million)* to a bidder in the room. Green Target from 1956, indeed one of the prototypes of Johns' art and creative vision which served to launch his career, sold for $3,368,000 (est. $3/4 million)*.

    "When we had a star lot, it performed like a star," commented Matthew Carey-Williams, senior vice president of Sotheby's Contemporary Department. "Buying tonight was predominately by seasoned collectors who took advantage of the high-quality works which the strong market has encouraged owners to consign."

    Mr. Carey-Williams continued, "Two paintings summed up for me the breadth and depth in today's Contemporary Art market - Joan Mitchell's King of Spades and Mark Tansey's The Key, a 1950s Abstract Expressionist work and a 1980s figurative work - both sparked intense competition resulting in record-breaking prices."

    Clam Diggers, Willem de Kooning's masterful work from 1963, set a new record for a work on paper by the artist when it sold for $3,928,000 (est. $3.5/4.5 million)*. The female figure was the touchstone throughout Willem de Kooning's oeuvre and in the present work, de Kooning achieves a brilliant integration of figurative elements within the Modernist plane.

    Collectors continue to pursue work by Andy Warhol as evidenced by the artist's vibrant 5 Deaths Twice I, a 1963 work from his Death and Disaster series, that achieved $6,504,000 (est. $5.5/6.5 million)*. By using vivid cadmium red color together with visual aesthetics, a rigorous composition and careful choice of subject matter, Warhol created a painting of power, beauty and tragedy. Warhol's Mickey Mouse, a much later work from 1981, sold for $1,912,000 against an estimate of $1/1.5 million*.

    The auction also featured the work of many young and cutting-edge artists, among them Mark Tansey, whose dream-like oil on canvas entitled The Key from 1984 brought $1,240,000 ($700/900,000)*, establishing a new record for the artist at auction. Jeff Koons monumental oil on canvas entitled Bracelet from his Celebration series sold for $2,248,000 (est. $1/1.5 million)*, establishing a record for a painting by Koons at auction. Following Sotheby's spectacular sale from Damien Hirst's celebrated Pharmacy restaurant in London, Hirst's painting entitled Amodiaquin, executed in 1993, brought $848,000 (est. $500/700,000)*, also a record for a painting by the artist at auction.