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'Rabbit' sculpture sells for record $91M; most ever for work by living artist

By Allen Cone
'Rabbit' sculpture sells for record $91M; most ever for work by living artist
Jeff Koons' 41-inch-tall Rabbit sculpture sold for $91 million on Wednesday night at Christie's in New York City. Photo courtesy Christie's

May 16 (UPI) -- A rabbit sculpture by Jeff Koons sold for $91 million on Wednesday night at Christie's in New York City, the most paid for any artwork by a living artist.

The purchase was part of the auction house's Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, which totaled nearly $540 million.

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Art dealer Robert Mnuchin, the father of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, bought the work on behalf of a client, Bloomberg News reported. Christie's had described the 1986 sculpture by the 64-year-old Koons as "one of the most iconic works of 20th-century art."

Initially, Christie's estimated Koons' faceless Rabbit would sell for between $50 million and $70 million. The winning bid was $80 million, which ballooned to $91 million after auction fees.

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The sale breaks the record set at Christie's six months ago -- $90.3 million for David Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). The British painter's artwork surpassed Koons' Balloon Dog (Orange) sculpture, which went for a record $58.4 million in 2013.

Koons, who lives and works in New York and York., Pa., molded three sculptures plus one artist's proof. One is kept at the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles and another has been promised to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago by its owners.

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The artwork auctioned Wednesday comes from the collection of late media mogul S.I. Newhouse. It has not been publicly exhibited since 1988, two years after it was first shown at New York's Ileana Sonnabend's gallery. But photos of the artwork have appeared on the cover of books, exhibition catalogs and magazines. Also, a blow-up version appeared in the 2007 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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The stainless-steel sculpture is 41 inches tall.

"This stainless-steel sculpture is at once cute and imposing, melding a Minimalist sheen with a cartoonish sense of play," read a sale preview on the auction house's website. "It is crisp and cool in its appearance, yet taps into the visual language of childhood. Its lack of facial features renders it inscrutable, yet its form evokes fun and frivolity."

A painting from Claude Monet's Haystacks series sold a day earlier for $110.7 million at Sotheby's. It's the most expensive Impressionist artwork to sell at auction.

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