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  • warhol-dollarbills1Andy Warhol’s art, once criticized for its overt commercialism and celebration of the banal, is taking its place among the top ranks of contemporary art.

    The sale of his silkscreen “200 One Dollar Bills” for $43.76 million at Sotheby’s recent contemporary art auction sent two clear messages: Warhol reigns supreme, and the troubled economy hasn’t dented collectors’ willingness to pay.

    In fact, the weak economy may ultimately benefit the sale of art and other valuable collectibles.

    With the stock market wobbling, real estate prices falling and the ever present threat of inflation lurking, investors are turning to gold, art and other objects that will hold and likely increase in value.

    The 1962 Warhol painting is a case in point. It sold for more than four times its estimate, and nearly set a new record for the sale of one of the late pop artist’s works, according to the auction house.

    While it was the highlight of the auction, overall sales totaled $134.4 million (including commission), topping Sotheby’s estimate by more than half. All but two of the 54 lots, sold and other artists set records.

    Sotheby’s head of contemporary art Tobias Meyer said “after a year of not buying … collectors have started buying again. The desire to have great things will make (them) step up and pay more than $40 million” for a work of art, he added.

    Baird Ryan, managing partner of the art-related financial services firm Art Capital Group told Reuters that more money on the sidelines than he initially thought and the “patient players will ultimately contribute significantly to the art market’s recovery.”

    Another Warhol, a self portrait the artist gave to a teenager at The Factory in the 1960s, fetched $6.13 million, quadrupling its high estimate.

    The sale was the strongest in two weeks of solid sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The bidding was robust at both houses, with works going for well above estimates, that arguably were conservative to begin with.

    Nonetheless, Jasper Johns’ “Gray Numbers” fetched $8.7 million, and Jean Dubuffet set a new record when “Trinite-Champs-Elysees” sold for $6.1 million.

    Alice Neel, Juan Munoz and Germaine Richier all set records, as well as a Jackson Pollock work on paper and a Willem de Kooning sculpture.