The collector Peter Brant, seated in the third row, quickly followed up, buying the third lot in the sale, Francesco Clemente’s “Fourteen Stations, No. XI,” for $1.9 million, over an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. Then the dealer Larry Gagosian purchased Cy Twombly’s blue, green and purple painting on a wooden panel for about $17 million, over the high estimate of $15 million.
By comparison, the Marilyn silk-screen — which Rotter recently called “the most significant 20th-century painting to come to auction in a generation” — felt like something of an anticlimax. Yes, it beat the Basquiat record, but speculation in advance of the auction had the painting soaring to as much as $400 million. Instead, the auctioneer seemed to wring the bids like water from stone, with the winning bid going to Gagosian.
“Expectation was very, very, very high,” said the art adviser Abigail Asher. “It was an incredibly healthy price, but at the same time, I believe the buyer got a deal. It’s one of the icons of 20th-century art.”
The painting, one of five in a series, is based on a promotional photo from the actress’s film “Niagara,” part of a Warhol series of “Shot Marilyn” portraits. In 1964, a woman walked into Warhol’s Factory studio with a pistol and shot at a stack of four Marilyn paintings (The canvas up for auction at Christie’s was not pierced by the bullet).
The Ammann siblings bought the work from the media mogul S.I. Newhouse Jr., in 1998; that year, Newhouse purchased Warhol’s “Orange Marilyn” (1964) at Sotheby’s for $17.3 million. After Newhouse’s death, in 2017, the billionaire hedge-fund manager Ken Griffin bought that work privately for about $200 million.