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The Rothko work "Untitled, (Yellow and Blue)," measuring 2.42 meters by 1.86 meters (about 8 feet by 6.1 feet) and completed in 1954, had been estimated at between $40 million and $60 million.
The painting was once owned by American socialite Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, according to Bloomberg.
Rothko was one of the most successful and famous artists in America before he killed himself in 1970, The Guardian notes.
Sotheby's notes on its website that "few 20th-century masters have inspired greater awe and reverence in their followers than" Rothko.
"Yellow and Blue" was one of the star pieces of this evening of auctions of contemporary works, including one by Roy Lichtenstein titled "The Ring." Sotheby's had expected it would go for $50 million, but in the end it sold for $41.69 million.
Another highlight of the sale, "Abstraktes Bild" by Germany's Gerhard Richter, was auctioned for $28.25 million, just under its presale estimate of $30 million.
None of these three set a record.
But several other artists did set records for sales at auction, including Polke. His painting "Dschungel" (1967) went for $27.13 million, three times the previous price for one of his works, according to Sotheby's.
Prior to the auction it had been estimated at about $20 million — a hefty sum for an artist Sotheby's said was virtually unknown until 2011.
A huge painting by Christopher Wool, "Riot," went for $29.93 million, compared with a presale estimate of $12 million to $18 million — a record for a living American artist.
American Mark Grotjahn, 47, also broke his own record with a work called "Untitled (Into and Behind the Green Eyes of the Tiger Monkey Face)." It went for $6.52 million, twice the upper end of its initial forecast range.
Sotheby's also sold several works by Andy Warhol, including "Superman," which went for $14.36 million (estimated at $6 million to $8 million) and "Mao" for $14.4 million. It had been estimated at $13 million to $16 million.
These estimates do not include costs and fees, unlike the final auction prices.
On Monday a Picasso oil painting, "The Women of Algiers (Version 0)," smashed records for sales at auction by going for $179 million.
It was the highest price paid for any work of art sold at auction, Christie's said.
The auction continues Wednesday in New York with sales of contemporary art at Christie's, followed Thursday with sales of impressionist and modern art.
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