By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Mark Rothko 1961 oil painting set a new auction record for post-war art on Tuesday, soaring to $87 million, while works by Gerhard Richter, Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein and Alexander Calder smashed artists' records at Christie's blockbuster sale that achieved the highest-ever total for post-war art.
The auction house realized a total of $388.5 million including commission against a pre-sale estimate of $236 million to $330 million, led by Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow."
The large-scale work from the Pincus collection soared to $86,882,500, breaking the artist's record of $72.84 million and eclipsing the $86.3 million paid for Francis Bacon's "Triptych, 1976" in 2008 as the most expensive post-war artwork at auction.
With 59 lots on offer only three failed to sell, an almost unprecedented sell-through rate as determined bidders drove prices for many top-priced works well beyond their high estimates.
The staggering numbers seemingly bore out auction officials' contention that the art market, at least at the top echelons, continues to defy world economic and geo-political strife.
"It was phenomenal," said Koji Inoun, Christie's specialist in charge of the sale. "It was something unprecedented."
"The market really responded," said Brett Gorvy, Christie's international head of post-war and contemporary art.
"It's a very knowledgeable market, a very sophisticated market," he said, adding that "complete global market bidding as well as incredibly strong American bidding" was evident.
"We saw very seasoned collectors, as well as new collectors coming forward," Gorvy said, in line with auction house officials' confident predictions in the days before the sale.
Five works sold for more than $20 million, while 11 of the 40 artists whose work was represented set new records.
Works from the collection of Philadelphia art patron and humanitarian David Pincus, who died in December, were led by the Rothko and achieved a total of $175 million, well above the $100 million estimate.
Some analysts said ahead of this week's sales at Christie's and rival Sotheby's that some works seemed aggressively priced, but the appetite for top-quality works of contemporary art appeared powerful.
"It just proved that there's insatiable demand," Inoun said. "The interest is just so deep."
Pollock's "Number 28, 1951," one of the artist's seminal drip paintings, and Barnett Newman's "Onement V," both from the Pincus collection, fetched $23 million and $22.5 million respectively. The Pollock more than doubled the artist's record, while the Newman sold for more than four times the old mark.
Klein's "FC1 (Fire Color 1)" sold for $36.5 million, 50 percent more than the previous record of $23.56 million, with a portion of the proceeds earmarked for the environmental non-profit Oceana.
Other artists setting records included Jeff Wall, Josef Albers, Vija Celmins and Sherrie Levin. The record for Calder, known for mobile sculptures, was broken twice at the sale, with a standing mobile "Lily of Force" fetching $18.56 million.
Richter's "Abstraktes Bild" soared far past the $16 million estimate to sell for $21.8 million, while Willem de Kooning's untitled work from 1980 easily beat the $10 million estimate, going for $14.1 million.
The auctions wrap up on Wednesday when Sotheby's, which last week set a record for any art at auction when Edvard Munch's "The Scream" sold for $120 million, holds it sale of post-war and contemporary art auction.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)