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Blockbuster Auction Evidence of Art-Theater Synergy?

Red, the play.

Sotheby's contemporary art auction yesterday raked in almost $190 million, dominated by a 1986 Warhol self portrait ($32.6 million) and a 1961 untitled Rothko canvas, originally estimated between $18 and $25 million. The work — one of the five bright, red-only paintings that Rothko did in the space of a year and half during which he subtracted his usual plums, burgundies, and blacks — ended up luring in an undisclosed buyer willing to cough up $31.4 million for its rouge-y presence.

Apparently everyone who saw the work in Sotheby's galleries was in awe of it, but there could be another force at work: John Logan's critically acclaimed play Red, which tells the story of the pompous, legendary Abstract Expressionist and has been enjoying a successful run on Broadway since April 1.

Crafty planning? Coincidence? "People ask if I timed it," said Tobias Meyer, the head of Sotheby's contemporary art department who also oversaw the auction. "I wish I was that intelligent, but I'm not. I do think red is the color that Rothko is most known for, and I think the play was in the back of my mind, and the play is called Red, which underlines it — and enforces that we have a good painting on our hands."

Let's see if the Damien Hirst musical, Crap, can similarly underline the truth when his next auction rolls around.

Photo: Johan Persson