Roy Lichtenstein: The Ring (Engagement), 1962

 

Last night Christie's coaxed $706 million from gazillionaire collectors, including $179 million for a large splashy canvas from Picasso's 1955 "Les femmes d'Alger" series. Tonight, Sotheby's is hoping to ring up in excess of $310 million in contemporary art in a 65-lot sale. Here's a quick overview of the sale, including the five works projected to fetch the most money.

 

Roy Lichtenstein, The Ring (Engagement), 1962, est. on request (about $50 million)

This early Pop canvas depicts a man's hand slipping a diamond ring on a woman's finger.  Lichtenstein's signature Ben-Day dots help activate the picture surface. The work is being offered for sale by Chicago collectors Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson, but one can hardly begrudge their cashing out. Last month the couple announced a gift to the Art Institute of Chicago of 42 primo works by artists too pricey for museums to chase nowadays—Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman and two Lichtensteins.  

 

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Yellow and Blue), 1954, est. $40-60 million

Large dramatic Rothkos are highly coveted by auction buyers. This one, in addition to a vibrant blue and yellow palette, was once owned by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, blue-blood American collectors who bought over a dozen Rothkos right out of the artist's studio, following his 1970 suicide. If that weren't enough cachet, the painting hung at the National Gallery of Art (founded by Paul Mellon's dad) on and off from 1979 to 1998. The Mellons evidently sold the picture to French billionaire François Pinault, who displayed the work at one of his two Venice museums in 2006.

 

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1992, est. on request (about $30 million)

This brightly colored abstract canvas is coming up for auction for the third time in a decade, which must be partly attributable to the dramatic rise in prices for Richter's big and appealingly hued squeegee paintings. The artist's technique was dramatically captured in Gerhard Richter Painting, a 2012 documentary. One does wonder about the value assigned to some of Richter's works, relative to the prices of Jack Whitten's '70s canvases, which achieved comparable and perhaps more radical effects, also with a squeegee. 

 

Sigmar Polke, Dschungel (Jungle), 1967, est. on request (about $20 million)

Last year New York's MoMA presented a major survey of the German painter's life work, which might have something to do with why this painting is back on the block just four years after it last appeared at auction. The work previously sold at Sotheby's in London four years ago for $9.2 million, and now prospective buyers are expected to fork over twice as much. A large example of Polke's "raster" technique of tiny painted dots, the work is dominated by tropical foliage in the foreground, with a cliché sun setting in the rear.

 

Jackson Pollock, Number 12, 1950, est. $15-20 million

Pollock paintings are rare at auction, but with a big splashy example installed at the new Whitney, this work might attract some special attention. Number 12 is relatively small, a bit under two feet by two feet, but every inch is layered with the artist's quintessential drips and skeins. Dominated by aluminum paint, with brown unadulterated Masonite board peeking in around the edges, it is a strong piece, which passed through the hands of notable early American dealers Betty Parsons and Sidney Janis.