The packed evening sale on February 27 netted £83.9m hammer, against a presale estimate of £72m-103m. Fifty six of the 70 lots found buyers.
The auction at Sotheby's was staged at something of a critical juncture for this booming sector. In general it witnessed stronger bidding than was seen three weeks earlier at rivals Christie's evening contemporary sale on February 6, which saw something of a cooling off in demand with over 30 per cent of the lots unsold and the £64.5m total falling below its £72m-100m presale-estimate.
Against the background of continuing instability in the financial markets and recession fears, Sotheby's opted to stage their contemporary series separately from the Impressionist and modern sales at the beginning of February, which meant that for the first time their contemporary sales were not held back to back with Christie's.
Phillips de Pury also conducted contemporary art sales last week that raised over £25m.
Sotheby's sale, however, showed that there remains plenty of confidence in the market, especially for the right works. In fact, it was the second most lucrative sale the auctioneers have ever staged in Europe, bettered only by the £103m February sale of Impressionist & Modern Art, and twice the total of the equivalent sale of 2007.
This was despite the top lot of the sale, Francis Bacon's 1969 Study of a Nude With Figure in a Mirror, attracting little interest in the room and selling below estimate at £17.8m to a European private collector.
Andy Walhol's Three Self Portraits made the second highest price at £10.2m, while six artist records were set, including £9.2m for a Lucio Fontana and £7.1m for a Gerhard Richter.
By Alex Capon