DiCaprio's wildlife charity auction brings in $48m

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Christie's auction house raised US$38.8 million (S$48.08 million) through a charity art auction and donations, Christie's said on Tuesday, with proceeds to benefit environmental and conservation causes.

The 33 works in The 11th Hour Auction organised by the star of the new film "The Great Gatsby" sold for US$31.74 million on Monday evening and set 13 records for artists including Carol Bove, Joe Bradley, Mark Grotjahn, Raymond Pettibon and Mark Ryden among others.

A US$5 million matching donation for three of the lots and additional gifts from donors brought the overall total to US$38.8 million for The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, according to Christie's.

"All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you," DiCaprio told the audience at the end of the auction.

Many of the works, which were created for and donated to the auction by the artists, sold in spirited bidding in a packed auction house. Art collectors from around the globe also placed bids by telephone.

"Christie's is thrilled with the exceptional results of the sale, which realized US$38.8 million," said Mr Loic Gouzer, international specialist at Christie's and the head of the sale.

"The works of art were of incredible quality and range, and highlight the generosity of the many artists who donated," he added.

A panel of environmental experts and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation will decide which conservation projects will benefit from the proceeds of the sale.

At the opening of the auction, DiCaprio, who has supported environmental issues through his foundation since 1988 and also produced and narrated the 2007 documentary "The 11th Hour" about the state of the environment, urged the audience to dig deep into their pockets.

"Bid as if the fate of the planet depended on us," he said.

And they did. All of the 33 works were sold and many fetched prices that were three or four times their pre-sale estimates.

The top lot of the sale was an oil on cardboard mounted on canvas by Mark Grotjahn called "Untitled (Standard Lotus No. II, Bird of Paradise, Tiger Mouth Face 44.01)," which sold for US$6.2 million as two determined bidders pushed up the price.

Zeng Fanzhi's "The Tiger," an oil on canvas, fetched nearly double its high estimate with a price of US$4.8 million, and Bharti Kher's sculpture "The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own"went for US$1.7 million.

Each of the three works had a pre-sale estimate of US$1.5 million to US$2.5 million.

DiCaprio donated "Ocean V" by Andreas Gursky, which sold for US$600,000, and he bought an acrylic on canvas by Takashi Murakami for US$700,000.

A portrait of DiCaprio painted by Elizabeth Peyton sold for US$1 million.

Gouzer and DiCaprio had approached the artists and explained what they had hoped to accomplish with the auction, which they have been planning for a year.

"We explained that we wanted great works and they were very reactive because of the cause. The artists are very sensitive to the fact that we are destroying our planet," Gouzer said in an interview ahead of the sale.

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