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'Blackboard' painting goes for record US$70.5 million

IT may look little more than blackboard scrawls to the untrained eye, but a Cy Twombly work fetched US$70.53 million in New York on Wednesday, setting a new auction record for the painter.

A smattering of applause broke out in the room after bidding concluded for the star lot of Sotheby's main evening post-war and contemporary art auction of the season.

"Untitled" was produced by the US artist as part of his acclaimed Blackboard series in 1968, using oil-based house paint, wax crayon and pencil on canvas.

The former army cryptographer painted six bands of repeated loopy lines on a gray background, which was sold by a prominent US collector to benefit a reform temple in Los Angeles.

Sotheby's said the price set a new record at auction for the artist, just edging out the previous record of $69.6 million.

It marked a phenomenal investment for a picture that British collector Charles Saatchi sold for $3.7 million in 1990.

Auctioneer Oliver Barker explained the price by saying that it came from the Blackboard series largely seen as Twombly's greatest achievement, and produced between 1968 and 1970.

"They're ones that people have a great affinity to," he told AFP.

Twombly was born in Virginia but based himself primarily in Italy from 1957 until his death in 2011 aged 83 in Rome.

Another standout of the night was an Andy Warhol acrylic silkscreen of Mao Zedong, from the artist's first series of the late Chinese communist leader, which sold for $47.51 million.

Sotheby's said it was the highest price paid for a Warhol of the week of auctions at its showroom and that of archrival Christie's.

A Jackson Pollock, "Number 17, 1949," sold for $22.93 million, at the lowest end of its estimate, as did a Lucio Fontana "Concetto Spaziale, Attese" for $16.15 million.

"Portrait" by British painter Francis Bacon sold for $15.65 million, rounding out the top five lots.

Ten items failed to sell, but there was frenetic bidding for many of the lots, particularly those at the lower end of the market and several went for prices way over their pre-sale estimates.

"It was hugely reassuring that we did so well tonight... and wonderfully exciting that so many great works were making great prices and finding such fantastic new homes," Barker told AFP.

In total, Sotheby's parted with $294.9 million worth of contemporary and post-war art, well above its low pre-sale estimate of $254 million.

Christie's comparable evening sale on Tuesday clocked up $331.8 million in sales and set auction records for seven artists, including Fontana and French-American artist Louise Bourgeois.

At Christie's, Fontana's "Concetto Spaziale, La fine di Dio" -- a yellow egg slashed in the canvas -- sold for $29.17 million.


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