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Warhol portrait of Mao Zedong sells for $12.6M

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 1:00 p.m.

LONDON — Paintings by Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat boosted a $146 million Sotheby's auction on Wednesday as wealthy collectors from 40 countries competed.

The tally represented an 18 percent increase from Sotheby's contemporary art auction a year ago and fell within the firm's estimated range, as 47 of 57 lots were sold.

Warhol's red 1973 portrait of Mao Zedong sold for $12.6 million, surpassing the high estimate. Three bidders, including Patti Wong, Sotheby's chairman of Asia, chased after the work that last appeared at auction in 2000, fetching 421,500 pounds. Samuel Valette, a Sotheby's senior international specialist, purchased it for a client.

“It shows how far this contemporary art market has come,” said Alexander Branczik, head of contemporary art in London for Sotheby's.

The top lot was Richter's fiery abstract painting “Wand (Wall),” which sold for $28.2 million against the presale target of more than $25 million, Sotheby's said. The auction house guaranteed the seller an undisclosed amount. Two telephone bidders pursued the 1994 canvas, rich in cadmium red and cobalt blue. It went to an undisclosed client of Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby's head of contemporary art in Europe. The price includes commission; the estimate doesn't.

The auction began with frenzied bidding for the painting “Two Sides of the Same Coin” by Lucien Smith, 24. The bids, mostly by Sotheby's staff members, came so fast that auctioneer Oliver Barker barely had time to turn his head.

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