Is It Warhol or Is It the Economy?

Liz Taylor? Overwrought, overrated and so yesterday.

The painting by Andy Warhol, that is. Not the violet-eyed actress, whose portrait disappointed auction-goers at Christie's Tuesday night, selling for a mere $23.6 million -- nearly $2 million short of its lowest estimated value.

"Liz" -- the 1963 portrait of a younger Taylor -- was reportedly owned by actor Hugh Grant, although Christie's would only say a private collector had offered it for sale.

The portrait was meant to be one of the highest ticket items at the post-war and contemporary art sale in New York City, valued between $25 million and $35 million.

Even though total sales fell in the middle of the predicted $271 million to $371 million range, some say volatility on Wall Street and in the real estate market is now spilling over into the art world.

Art dealers -- who point to a record-breaking $315 million Sotheby's auction the day after the lackluster Warhol sale -- insist sales are still brisk, but retail analysts point to new jitters among the weathiest buyers.

"At the very high end, they are pulling back," Marie Driscoll of the equity research department of Standard and Poor's told

The luxury market is being driven by those who earn more than $10 million a year, according to Driscoll. Sotheby's and Christie's rely on these high earners to sustain record auction sales.

"These people are the decision makers, the leaders of companies who know what's happening in the economy," she said. "They are seeing the big picture and the macro factors and are making their purchases accordingly."

Just last week, Sotheby's stock fell more than 30 percent after classic big-seller paintings by Van Gogh and Picasso failed to deliver high prices.

How Long Can It Last?

"With some of the economic news, the real collectors certainly think twice," Judith Selkowitz of New York City's Art Advisory Services Inc. told "Every time there is an ebullient sale, they ask, 'How long can this go on.'"

But art dealers and advisers say fears about an art-market collapse may be unfounded. The Christie's sale achieved the second-best auction result ever with $325 million in total sales and 16 artists breaking records.

According to Reuters, buyers claimed 93 percent of the works.

"I thought the prices were pretty high," said Selkowitz, a 37-year veteran who attended the Christie's auction. "The fact that ["Liz"] was owned by a movie star gave it some cache."

It turns out that Grant, whose caddish good looks were box-office gold in films like "Bridget Jones Diary" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral," made a good investment.

The New York Times reported that Grant paid $3.5 million for "Liz," thereby netting seven times the sale price. London dealer Gerald Fagginato bought "Liz" on Grant's behalf at Sotheby's in New York in 2001, the newspaper reported.

Grant's agent did not return ABC's phone calls and e-mails. Neither Sotheby's nor Christie's -- both in the midst of auctions today -- would confirm that Grant was the seller, though experts familiar with the collection have identified it as his.

Amy Cappellazzo, one of the heads of Christie's postwar and contemporary art department, told The New York Times that the seller is "taking advantage of the strength of today's market and turning his attention to work by younger artists."

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