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Warhol Double Elvis sells for $37m at Sotheby's auction

Roy Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl and Ai Weiwei's Sunflowers attract record prices at Sotheby's contemporary art sale in New York

Andy Warhol's Double Elvis sold for $37m (£23m) and works by Roy Lichtenstein and the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei broke their own records at Sotheby's contemporary art sale on Wednesday.

Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl, depicting a woman with closed eyes and flowing blond hair, fetched $44.9m; Weiwei's one-tonne, handmade porcelain Sunflower Seeds brought $782,500.

Warhol's Double Elvis (Ferus Type), a silver silkscreen image of Elvis Presley depicted as a cowboy, fetched $37,042,500. It had been expected to sell for $30m-$50m. The auction house said it was the first Double Elvis to appear on the market since 1995. Warhol produced a series of 22 images of Elvis. Nine are in museum collections.

Elvis is shown armed and shooting from the hip, with a shadowy and faintly visible double in the background. It was offered for sale by a private American collector, who acquired it in 1977.

The record for a Warhol is $71.7m for his Green Car Crash Green Burning Car I, sold at Christie's in 2007.

Another major work on the auction block Francis Bacon's Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror sold for $44,882,500. The buyers' names for each of the four pieces were not released.

The sale came on the heels of art auction history. Last week the auction house sold a version of Edvard Munch's The Scream for $119.9m, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

"The reason for these record-breaking sales is, quite simply, the quality of material on show," said Michael Frahm, a contemporary art adviser at the London-based Frahm Ltd. "The key is quality."

Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl was one of a series of sexy comic book-inspired images created by the artist in the 1960s, The work was exhibited only once at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1989-90. It was sold by the estate of Los Angeles collectors and philanthropists Beatrice and Phillip Gersh, who were the founding members of MOCA.

Lichtenstein's I Can See the Whole Room! ... And There's Nobody In It! held the previous auction record for the artist. It sold for $43.2m at Christie's in November 2011.

Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds was one of an edition of 10 and was accompanied by a certificate signed by the artist. The ceramic seeds, which can be arranged in myriad shapes, were the subject of a Tate Modern exhibit in 2010. The previous Weiwei auction record was $657,000 for his Chandelier, set at Sotheby's in 2007.

Bacon's Figure Writing, which depicts the artist and his partner, George Dyer, writing at a table, was included in a 1977 Paris exhibition alongside Triptych, a 1976 work by the artist that sold for $86.2m at Sotheby's in 2008. It held the record for any contemporary artwork at auction until Tuesday night when Mark Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow claimed that title when it sold at Christie's for $86.8m.

The Elvis silkscreen was exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1963, the year it was created. The auction catalogue described the work, based on a movie publicity photo, as "the deification of a contemporary warrior-saint, the towering, pre-eminent idol bearing a deadly weapon as if protecting the mythical world of celebrity itself".


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