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Refco Auction: A Bargain Hunter's Modern Art Bonanza

The Refco art auction began last week, bringing in fantastic, above estimate returns for Christie's auction house and proving that, at the very least, the now defunct commodities brokerage's taste in art was anything but a car wreck. On the block were works from Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Gursky, Ray, and beyond.

The well-touted auction of Refco Inc.’s art collection has begun, with early results bringing in more money than expected, while at times proving a challenge for famed auctioneer Christie’s International. According to Bloomberg News, the sale of 182 pieces brought in $1.9 million – about half million more than projected – leading observers to say that the total collection, which Refco bought over the years for about $3.5 million – in the end may fetch more than $5 million. Considering creditors are demanding $16 billion, that’s peanuts. The Refco auction, says Bloomberg, was unusual in that the sellers didn’t set any minimum prices, and for some works, auctioneer Andrea Fiucyznski had to lower the prices to generate interest. One work started with an opening bid with $3,500 but had to go way down to $200 before someone would make a bid and won it for $240. Works of unknown artists don’t command high prices, which prompted Christies to comment, “That’s why we don’t specialize in unknown artists.”

Speaking of Refco, Austrian bank Bawag reportedly is in talks to possibly settle out of court a $1.3 billion suit filed by creditors of the collapsed broker. Earlier, Bawag called the action illegitimate, saying “we’re a victim, not perpetrator.”

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