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Christie's has record-breaking $1 billion week

By Danielle Haynes
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Christie's has record-breaking $1 billion week
Christie's Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen concludes an auction of a painting by Pablo Picasso entitled "Les femmes d'Alger at Christie's in New York City on May 11, 2015. The Picasso sold for a record $179,365,000 (including Christie's commission of just over 12 percent). Previously the most expensive art work ever sold at auction is Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," which went for $142 million in 2013. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, May 14 (UPI) -- Art auction records have been dropping all over the place this week, but none so spectacular as Christie's first $1 billion week.

Between two modern and contemporary auctions held this week -- one was still ongoing Thursday -- Christie's has set more than a dozen new records. With Wednesday's sale of Mark Rothko's "No. 10," the auction house crossed the $1 billion threshold, marking the first time the art world has seen sales of this magnitude within just a three-day timespan.

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The Rothko painting, ethereal fields of orange paint on a black background, sold for $81.93 million, the second-highest amount fetched by a piece by the artist. The artwork was part of Christie's two-day "Post-War and Contemporary" auction, which, as of Wednesday night, achieved $658.53 million.

Eight other artworks set auction records for artists, including Lucian Freud, Robert Rauschenberg, Hans Hoffman, Robert Ryman, Sturtevant, Giovanni Anselmo and Rudolph Stingel.

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"The response that we saw to the sale this evening proves the sophistication, knowledge and competitive urge of many of our top buyers," Brett Gorvy, International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, said of Wednesday's sale. "They were pursuing not just great works but also great collections tonight, and showed they were willing to stretch and stretch some more to have the best."

But perhaps even more eye-popping were the prices paid for artworks in Christie's "Looking Forward to the Past" auction earlier in the week.

A Pablo Picasso painting of scantily clad women broke the record for the highest price ever fetched by a piece of art at auction with a bid of $179 million on Monday.

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The famed Spanish painter completed the piece, "Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')," as part of his 1954-55 series inspired by 19th century French artist Eugene Delacroix. Les femmes d'Alger was the final work of that series and was also considered an homage to fellow artist Henri Matisse, a contemporary.

"'Les femmes d'Alger, (Version 'O')'" was the culmination of a herculean project which Picasso started after Matisse's death, in homage to his lost friend and competitor, and which over a period of two months and after nearly 100 studies on paper and 14 other paintings led to the creation of this phenomenal canvas in February 1955," said Olivier Camu, deputy chairman, impressionist and modern art with Christie's, prior to the auction.

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The painting was originally valued at $140 million, $34 million more than ever fetched for a Picasso painting. "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" sold for about $106.5 million at an auction at Christie's in 2010.

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The previous record for amount paid at auction for a painting was for a 1969 triptych byFrancis Bacon, "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," which sold for a whopping $142.2 million

The Picasso painting wasn't the only item to set a world record at Monday's auction. A sculpture by Italian artist Alberto Giacometti sold for $141.28 million.

"L'homme au doigt (Pointing Man)" had an estimated value of $130 million, several millions of dollars more than the most previously paid for a piece of sculpture of $104.3 million. The previous world record was set in 2010 with the sale of another Giacometti piece, "Walking Man I."

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The bronze sculpture stands 5 feet, 10 inches tall and features a pencil-thin figure with one arm pointing, another raised behind its head. The piece was cast in 1947.

" 'Pointing Man' is unquestionably Giacometti's greatest sculpture," said Jussi Pylkkanen, global president of Christie's. "Executed after the War in one incredible night of creative fervour, this noble figure points mankind to a brighter future beyond our limited horizons."

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All told, the "Looking Forward to the Past" auction realized $705.86 million and set new records for eight other artists, including Chaim Soutine, Peter Doig, Jean Dubuffet, Jean-Michel Basquat, Candy Noland, René Magritte, Robert Delaunay and Diane Arbus.

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