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Leonardo DiCaprio, Christie's To Hold Charity Auction To Benefit Environment

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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK, May 10 (Reuters) - Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of the new film "The Great Gatsby," and his foundation have teamed up with Christie's for a charity auction next week to benefit environmental causes.

Thirty-three works, many created for and donated to the auction by some of the world's top artists, will go under the hammer on Monday in New York at The 11th Hour Auction, which aims to raise as much as $18 million to protect the last wild places on Earth and their endangered species.

"A lot of the works of this quality have never been at auction. We have what we believe are conservative estimates," Loic Gouzer, international specialist at Christie's and the head of the sale, said in an interview.

"It is going to be the biggest one-time environmental fundraiser ever," he added.

Zeng Fanzhi's "The Tiger," an oil on canvas, Bharti Kher's "The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own," a work on fiberglass, and Mark Grotjahn's "Untitled (Standard Lotus No. II, Bird of Paradise, Tiger Mouth Face 44.01), an oil on cardboard mounted on canvas, are expected to be among the highlights of the sale.

Each of the three works has a pre-sale estimate of $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

Other artists whose work will be auctioned include Peter Beard, Banksy, Robert Longo, Richard Prince, Rob Pruitt, Ed Ruscha, Julian Schnabel and Elizabeth Peyton.

DiCaprio has donated "Ocean V" by Andreas Gursky to the auction.

"The roster of donations reads like a who's who of the most important contemporary artists of our time," said Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's. "And the impact will be felt for generations."

A panel of environmental experts and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation will decide which innovative conservations projects will benefit from the proceeds of the sale.

Gouzer said he and DiCaprio, whose foundation has worked on environmental issues since 1998, approached the artists and explained what they hoped to accomplish with the auction, which they have been planning for a year.

"We explained that we wanted great works and they were very reactive because of the cause. The artists are very sensitive to the fact that we are destroying our planet," Gouzer said.

DiCaprio, who grew up in Los Angeles, has been a vocal supporter of the environment and preserving the planet's natural resources. The actor produced and narrated the 2007 documentary "The 11th Hour" a documentary about the state of the natural environment.

"Nature is abundant and it is resilient, but we have to take action now to protect our planet before it is too late," DiCaprio said in a statement.

"Given that less than 2 percent of philanthropic giving goes to environmental conservation projects, we are grateful that Christie's and the participating artists are providing this incredible opportunity."

"The Great Gatsby" opens in U.S. theaters on Friday. (Editing by Paul Simao)

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