Christie’s auctioneer Christopher Burge usually rules the saleroom with an iron gavel. But in May, amid a rousing $301.7 million contemporary art sale, he lost control. For nearly 16 minutes, the auction was hijacked by a pair of dueling collectors, competing for a
blue 1963–64 Warhol Self-Portrait, tagged at $20 million to $30 million. Tossing protocol to the wind, the contestants—an anonymous European collector on the phone and a client of private dealer Philippe Ségalot, also on the phone-bid in unorthodox, mind-numbing $100,000 increments, rather than the typical $1 million chunks, as the price tag climbed north of $20 million.
This was the longest bidding battle in recent memory, and Burge’s indulgence suggests Ségalot may have been bidding on behalf one of his most powerful clients, Christie’s owner, François Pinault. In the end, Ségalot bailed and the shooting match terminated as his opponent bid a final $38.4 million for a four-panel portrait that epitomizes Warholian cool.