A painting by Barnett Newman that Sotheby's described as an icon of Abstract Expressionism sold in New York for a record $43.84 million at an auction peppered with stunningly expensive works.
"Onement VI" consists of two vibrant blue rectangles neatly divided by a single, light blue line, an arrangement that Sotheby's called "a portal to the sublime."
The simplicity of the design "was the core of Newman's ambition to create paintings free of objects, dogma, precedence or referential subject matter," Sotheby's said. "Along with other heroic artists of the Twentieth Century, Newman wanted to regenerate art and society through the invention of new forms of expression that could capture the ineffable essence of existence."
Estimated at $30 million to $40 million, "Onement VI" led the charge Tuesday at an uneven spring auction of contemporary art, following on last week's healthy sales of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby's and Christie's.
The price set an auction record for Newman. There was another record set for Germany's Gerhard Richter, whose deliberately out-of-focus, photo-painting style oil of Milan's cathedral square, "Domplatz, Mailand," sold for $37.1 million.
It had also been estimated at $30 million to $40 million and finally sold for $37.1 million -- not just a record for Richter, but for any living artist at auction.
However, the third painting in the same estimate range -- Francis Bacon's "Study for Portrait of P.L" -- failed to find a buyer.
Those three were the lead works in an auction that Sotheby's described as presenting "some of the most exciting examples of Post War and Contemporary Art to be seen at auction in recent years."
A flower-like sculpture by Yves Klein, made from blue-tinted sponges on a metal stem and stone base, fetched $22 million, breaking the auction record for his works.
The artist had explained once that his inspiration for the work, "Sculpture eponge bleue sans titre," was simply noticing the beauty of the color blue in sponges that he himself used in his studio while painting.
There were other mega-sales, like the $20.9 million paid for Clifford Still's abstract oil painting "PH-21," estimated at $16 million to $20 million.
Cy Twombly's "Unititled (Bolsena)," which features what resemble pencil scribblings and doodles over a tan paint background, fetched $15.4 million, above the high estimate.
But there were also other high-profile flops, including "New Hoover Celebrity IV" by Jeff Koons, featuring four vacuum cleaners in a glass case. It had been estimated at $10 million to $15 million and failed to find a buyer.
The same fate awaited another Koons' -- "Wall Relief with Bird," estimated at $6 million to $8 million.