Steinhardt, Lauder — But Not Picasso — Help Set Art Record

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Paul Gauguin and Christopher Burge at Christie's last night. Photo: AFP/Getty Images


Some masterpieces were missing from the record-setting Christie's Impressionist auction last night, but a slew of boldfaced names showed up to bid, undaunted.

The night ended with $491 million in sales, making it the biggest art auction ever, and paddles were waving right out of the gate. Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Lauria outbid several opponents for lot No. 5, a Piet Mondrian study for "Broadway Boogie Woogie" that went for $3.3 million. Michael Steinhardt, seated with his wife, Judy, outbid powerhouse art dealer Jeffrey Deitch for another Mondrian study just a minute later, paying $2.1 million. And that was just the beginning.

"Painting No. 47 has tragically been withdrawn," Christie's plumy-voiced auctioneer Christopher Burge told the wall-to-wall audience; Andrew Lloyd Webber's controversial Picasso had been pulled only hours before the auction started. And the other stars of the evening, four multi-million-dollar Gustav Klimts, were also missing: The sellers had insisted that they be kept in glass cases during the sale and not put on general display.

Ronald Lauder, a prominent Gustav Klimt collector — he reportedly paid $135 million for one earlier this year — wasn't spotted, but his chauffeur was outside, so he might have been in the private gallery. He didn't win the Klimt portrait of the artist's muse, Adele Bloch-Bauer, but if he surrendered one comely brunette, he may have won another: Bidding on behalf of the Lauder's Neue Galerie was his companion since splitting with wife, private Swiss art dealer Daniella Luxembourg. She bought a rare and controversial Berlin street scene by Kirchner for the museum, spending $38.1 million. (The painting was returned to heirs of its original owners by a German museum, amid bitter local opposition about surrendering the national masterpiece.)

The big money was restless through the long sale, and several people got up to stretch their legs — or parade in front of the room: Former Goldman Sachs partner turned deep-pockets art dealer Robert Mnuchin; Israel Nahmad, one of a trio of Middle Eastern art-dealer brothers who are among the biggest art buyers in the world, for clients like the Sultan of Brunei; and Michelle Strauss, sometime advisor to LVMH owner Bernard Arnault. Arnault's rival in the French-billionaire business, Christie's owner Francois Pinault, was also represented: Dealer Marc Blondeau, who often buys for him, snapped up a Giacometti.

The night's loser? Sotheby's, which saw its 1990 record sale — $286 million — toppled. David Norman, co-head of Sotheby's Impressionist department, was standing near the back, but he left early, before the totals were tallied.

Alexandra Peers

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