New York Picasso sale sets Sh17 billion auction record

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A Picasso masterpiece fetched more than Sh17 billion ($179 million) in New York on Monday, smashing the world record for the most expensive art sold at auction in what was dubbed the “sale of the century.”

The oil painting, “The Women of Algiers (Version 0),” sold for $179,365,000 after more than 11 minutes of furious bidding from telephone buyers at a packed auction room at Christie’s.

Applause erupted when the sale was finalized in an atmosphere of feverish excitement, accompanied by laughter and jokes, fetching way over its pre-sale estimate of $140 million.

The previous world record for a painting sold at auction was $142.4 million, set for British painter Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” which was sold by Christie’s in New York in 2013.

The 1955 painting by Pablo Picasso is one of the last major paintings by the Spanish master still in private hands. He painted several versions until he settled on the nearly four-by-five-foot (121-by-152-centimeter) canvas.

A rival highlight of the evening sale is a bronze statue by Alberto Giacometti called “Man Pointing,” estimated to be worth $130 million, which has also been tipped as a potential record breaker.

“Those two works can set a world record,” Loic Gouzer, senior vice president of Christie’s, said ahead of Monday’s auction.

“You don’t have another chance to get them.”

Swiss sculptor Giacometti already holds the record for the most expensive sculpture sold at auction with his “Walking Man I” fetching $104.3 million in London in 2010.

Christie’s is offering a total of 35 lots spanning more than a century from 1902 to 2011, and expected to score in excess of $500 million at its swanky New York premises at Rockefeller Plaza.

Other highlights are Picasso’s “Buste de femme” oil painting, valued at $55 million, a painting from Claude Monet’s “The House of Parliament” series, valued at $35 to $45 million, and Mark Rothko’s 1958 “No 36, Black Stripe,” with an estimated value of $30-$50 million.

Exponential growth in the art market, particularly for modern and contemporary works, is attributed to a growing number of private investors around the world and burgeoning interest in Asia and the Gulf.

‘Sale of the century’

The proceeds from public art auctions rose 26 percent from $12.05 billion in 2013 to $15.2 billion in 2014, and grew 422 percent between 2000 and 2014, according to Artprice, a leader in art market information.

Artprice CEO Thierry Ehrmann told AFP that interest would be particularly strong for the Giacometti statue, which it believed could go as high as $175 to $200 million and eclipse the Picasso.

“This will be the sale of the century,” said Ehrmann. “It’s a tipping point in the history of art.”

There are only six casts in the world of “Man Pointing,” which shows a wiry, nearly six-foot (1.8-meter) man holding up one hand and pointing with the other.

New York’s spring auction season began last week at Sotheby’s, which sold a Vincent van Gogh painting for more than $66 million, the most paid for a work by the Dutch post-impressionist since 1998.

Van Gogh’s “Les Alyscamps,” which depicts a stand of autumnal trees, had been expected to go for around $40 million but was finally snapped up by an Asian collector after an intense bidding war.

The sales continue on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Artprice says the art market offers yields of 10 to 15 percent per year for works valued at over $100,000.

But even if auction records are broken Monday, the Picasso and Giacometti are unlikely to eclipse the $300 million reportedly paid privately by Qatar for Paul Gauguin’s 1892 painting “When Will You Marry?” in February.

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