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Sotheby's Return to Los Angeles Off to a Fine Start


Returning to Los Angeles on Wednesday after a 12-year absence, Sotheby's racked up $1.24 million worth of sales in an auction of modern and contemporary prints.

Although 73, or about 19%, of the 380 works offered failed to find buyers and others commanded less than their estimated value in a two-part auction at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the sales total measured up to the auction house's predictions.

A 1907-08 etching of a nude by Georges Braque commanded the top price of $36,800 from an unidentified Japanese dealer who bid by telephone. The 11x7 3/4-inch work, said to be the first print the French master ever made, was valued at $25,000 to $30,000.

A Japanese dealer also snapped up "Roofs of Paris," Yozo Hamaguchi's stylized depiction of illuminated rooftops--but only after spirited competition. The price was estimated at $8,000 to $10,000, but it was sold for $26,450.

A Mexican dealer paid $24,150, the auction's third highest piece, for Rufino Tamayo's "1984 Suite," a set of eight aquatints.

(Buyers pay a 15% premium on works sold for $50,000 or less at Sotheby's auctions, and 10% on any amount in excess of $50,000. The premium is included in selling prices, but not in pre-sale estimates.)

Large groups of works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Tamayo and Hamaguchi sold briskly, while late 19th- and early 20th-Century American prints languished. But despite obvious weaknesses in an art market that boomed in the late 1980s and crashed when speculators bailed out, the auction appeared to be a solid start for an ongoing series of print sales, to be held twice each year, in March and October.


"We were exceedingly pleased with the degree of interest in the auction and with people's delight in having print auctions back in Los Angeles," said Andrea van de Kamp, Sotheby's senior vice president and West Coast managing director.

About 150 people attended the afternoon session, leaving many empty seats in the hotel's Grand Trianon Room, but the evening sale packed in more than 325 collectors, art dealers and representatives of local museums.

Much of the buying was done by telephone or "order" bids, which are placed in advance, but members of the audience also placed bids by raising numbered paddles. Los Angeles dealer Manny Silverman bought Henri Matisse's 1934 lithograph of a seated ballet dancer for $12,075, well above the pre-sale estimate of $7,000 to $8,000. Robert Berman, a local art dealer and auctioneer, snagged a Man Ray portfolio of 10 lithographs for $4,255.

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