NEW YORK -- A week of auctions of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art ending Wednesday brought a record $433 million, nearly 12 percent above the experts' pre-sale evaluation of the 1,448 paintings and sculptures offered.
The world record for any series of art sales was set despite the failure of 133 lots offered by Sotheby's and Christie's galleries to find buyers. The bids on these lots failed to meet the minimum sale price agreed on by the consignors and the galleries.
Gallery experts had estimated the sales which began Nov. 9 would fetch a total of $389 million but they actually brought $44 million more. The fact that the stock market was sagging throughout the week seemed to have little effect on the sales, nor did the suprising lack of activity on the part of Japanese collectors.
'The art market seems to be quite stable,' observed Sotheby president Diana D. Brooks. 'A lot of the paintings that didn't sell probably had too high reserves as a result of consignor's expectations based on record-breaking sales last May. I hope this will bring some realism to the market place.'
'There is still a lot of money for art out there,' observed Roberta Maneker, a spokesman at Christie's, which racked up total sales of $202 million. 'Private American and European collectors dominated the sales with the Japanese being less of a presence.'
Sotheby's officially described the gallery's $231 million sales total as 'a remarkable achievement,' noting that a comparable series of sales at the gallery last November brought only $159 million including the world record $53.9 million paid for a single painting - Van Gogh's 'Irises.'
'Sotheby's set a new world record of $66 million for a sale of contemporary art last Thursday,' Brooks pointed out. 'The previous record was only $37 million. The sale of Jasper Johns' 'False Start' for $17 million was historic on many levels. The market for American contemporary art has exploded and become international.'
Samuel I. Newhouse Jr., a New York publisher with an estimated fortune of nearly $3 billion, purchased the Johns, paying the second highest price -- after 'Irises' -- ever paid at auction in this country of any work of art. It also was a new high for a work of art by a living artist.
Johns, 53, received only $1,575 for 'False Start' when it was first sold in 1960 to New York taxi fleet owner Robert Scull, who paid Johns' dealer $3,150 for the abstract work resemblinbg a swatch of flashy wallpaper in red, blue and yellow patterns. It carried a pre-sale estimate of $5 million.
Another Johns, 'White Flag,' was sold at Christie's to Swedish real estate developer Hans Thulin for $7 million. It held the auction record for a contemporary work of art for just 24 hours, topping the previous record of $4.84 million for Jackson Pollock's 'Search.'
That record for a Pollock was smashed at Christie's when his 'Frieze,' sold for $5.7 million, which also was a record for any abstract epressionist painting.
The week's highlight was the sale of Pablo Picasso's blue period 'Motherhood' at Christie's for $24.8 million, a record for any 20th century work. It was knocked down to an unidentified Latin American collector who bid by telephone.
At the same sale, Edgar Degas' bronze, 'Little Dancer at the Age of 14,' complete with tulle tutu and silk hair ribbon, was sold to an anonymous European collector for $10 million, $55,000 more than another casting of the same subject brought at Sotheby's last May.
The Picasso and Degas were the top lots in the sale of 28 works for a total of $85 million from the collection of the late Hollywood producer William Goetz and his wife Edith, daughter of film pioneer Louis B. Mayer. Other famous collections dispersed during the week were those of Victor Ganz, late vice president of New York's Whitney Museum, and Burton Tremaine, a Connecticut manufacturer.
Bidding on another Picasso, a cubist period work titled 'Woman with a Mandolin' did not reach the reserve at Christie's but its sale was later negotiated by the gallery in excess of $7 million to an anonymous collector. Another cubist Picasso, 'The Bird Cage,' sold for $15.4 million and a portrait of the artist's son, Pablo, in a pierrot costume sold for $5 million.
Other top prices which set auctionrecords for individual artists were $7.9 million for a Degas pastel, 'Lowering the Curtain,' $7.4 million for Pierre Bonnard's 'After the Meal,' $3.9 million for Andy Warhol's silk screen 'Marilyn Monroe (Twenty Times)', $3.7 million for Robert Rauschenberg's 'Winter Pool, '$3.6 million for Alfred Sisley's 'On the Banks of the Sainte-Mammes,' and $3.3 million for Edvard Munch's 'Girls on the Jetty.'
Additional records were $3 million for Henri Fantin-Latour's 'Hydrangeas,' $2.7 million for Mark Rothko's 'Number 8,' $2.3 million for Franz Kline's 'Lehigh,' $2 million for Roy Lichtenstein's 'I Can See the Whole Room,' $1.3 million for Rene Magritte's 'Song of the Violet,' and $1.1 million each for for Marie Laurencin's 'Illustrations for Camille' and Kees Van Dongen's 'Silver Slip.'