NEW YORK — Jasper Johns' seminal work "Flag" from the collection of the late best-selling author Michael Crichton sold for $28.6 million at a New York City auction Tuesday, an auction record for the artist.
Christie's said the work was purchased by an American art dealer during high-spirited bidding Tuesday night by phone and in the room. There were four bidders for the work, which took two minutes to sell, Christie's said.
The previous Johns' auction record was $17.4 million for "Figure 4," in 2007.
"This fabulous painting is a tribute to the great collector Michael Crichton who showed us all how to enjoy and collect art for future generations," Brett Gorvy, international co-head of post war and contemporary art at Christie's, said in an e-mail.
"Flag" was the crown jewel of Crichton's collection.
The popular writer of such blockbuster thrillers as "Jurassic Park," "The Andromeda Strain" and the TV series "ER" died in 2008. He was a passionate art collector, leaving a 20th century art trove of some of pop art's best known artists, including Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Jeff Koons and Pablo Picasso, among others.
The sale featured 31 pieces, which sold for $93.3 million. Another 117 works from the collection will be sold Wednesday as part of Christie's post war and contemporary art sale.
Christie's catalog called "Flag" "one of the greatest icons of modern art alongside Picasso's 'Guernica' and Andy Warhol's 'Marilyn.'"
A 1960 encaustic and paper collage rendition of the stars and stripes, Crichton bought it from Johns in 1973 and hung it in his Beverly Hills bedroom. It has been exhibited only once for a pop art survey at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1992-1993.
Crichton generously lent works from his collection for exhibitions, but was possessive about the "Flag" because of his close friendship with Johns, said Gorvy in an interview before the sale.
Because of Crichton's deep understanding of Johns' work, Johns asked Crichton to write the catalog for his 1977 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Within the art world, Crichton was renowned as a leading authority on Johns, Gorvy said.
He had predicted that "Flag" would "go substantially higher" than its pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $15 million, given that the work "is so superb and rare ... and coming from a famous fella and also from someone who understood the artist."
Richard Feigen, an art dealer with galleries in New York and Chicago specializing in 19th and 20th century art and old masters, said before the auction that he believed monied collectors would bid high as a hedge against the economy.
"I rather think that the activity in the stock market will probably stimulate people to put more money into art because art ... now seems to be treated as an asset class and as a safe repository for money and also a hedge against currency fluctuations," Feigen said.
"My guess is people will feel this is a very safe place, if not a dynamic place, to park $30 million more or less." he added.
Last week, "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," a 1932 Picasso painting of his mistress, set a world record for any work of art at auction when it sold for $106.5 million at Christie's New York.
Christie's head of impressionist and modern art, Conor Jordan, said the price "showed the great confidence in the marketplace and the enthusiasm with which it welcomes top quality works."
Among other highlights in the Crichton collection:
_ Oldenburg's 1970 "Three Way Plug Soft Sculpture," estimated at $250,000 to $350,000.
_ Lichtenstein's "Girl in Water," estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, and
_ Robert Rauschenberg's "Studio Painting," estimated at $6 million to $9 million.
Crichton was one of the world's most commercially successful writers whose many books have been turned into film.
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