By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Art collectors dug deep into their pockets on Wednesday and smashed records for a second straight night as Sotheby's held the biggest auction in its history, led by a record-setting $105 million work by Andy Warhol.
The auction of post-war and contemporary art totaled $380.6 million, its highest total ever, and set new auction records for major artists Cy Twombly and Brice Marden.
Of the 61 lots on offer only seven failed to sell. The total was just shy of the $394 million high pre-sale estimate.
If it was not quite the blockbuster affair that rival Christie's staged on Tuesday, it was still an impressive result, marking the auction house's second solid success in a row after it scored with a $290 million sale of Impressionist and modern art a week ago.
The sale's expected highlight, in particular, far exceeded expectations. Warhol's "Silver Car Crash (Doubled Disaster)," from his seminal death and disaster series, soared to $105,445,000 including commission, 50 percent higher than the late pop artist's previous auction record of $71.7 million.
Sotheby's did not disclose the buyer, who was bidding by telephone. It had estimated the nearly 9-by-14-foot work from 1963 to sell for "in excess of $60 million," but that figure turned out to be the opening bid.
Sotheby's officials were thrilled with the results.
"How can you not be thrilled when you make the highest total in Sotheby's history," worldwide head of contemporary art Tobias Meyer said after the sale.
Of the Warhol, Meyer, who also served as auctioneer, said "It's a great price - and completely worth it," adding, "It's the best painting I've ever sold in my whole career."
The price was the second-highest in history for a contemporary work of art - the highest being the $142.4 million fetched by Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" on Tuesday at Christie's, the top auction price ever.
Auction officials at both Sotheby's and Christie's have said that recent price spikes were driven in part by wealthy collectors entering what is an increasingly global market.
"Global participation was evident throughout the sale," said Alex Rotter, head of contemporary art in New York, noting that sellers from 10 countries offered works in the sale.
As to bidders, Rotter said, "When the quality is there, multiple people from different cultural backgrounds are going for it, because it's outstanding." Sotheby's said 64 percent of registered bidders were from outside the United States.
Sotheby's also said there was "significant participation" from Asia and Latin America.
Other highlights of the sale included Gerhard Richter's "A.B. Courbet", which sold for $26.5 million and Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers)", which fetched $25.9 million. Both beat their $25 million high estimate.
Twombly's "Poems to the Sea" was estimated at only $7 million but soared to $21.7 million, a record for a new artist.
(Editing by Ken Wills)