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Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, said the top of the market performed well because of the global demand for masterpieces.

Patricia Berman, chair of the art department at Wellesley College and a director of the Edvard Munch Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, said, “This narrow sector of the art market is robust because of the record number of millionaires and billionaires worldwide, because of the uncertainty of other investment pathways and because of the increasing glamour and cachet of the ownership of contemporary art among newer investors.”

Nicolai Frahm called the sale of the Rothko painting for nearly $87 million “amazing” because “that’s not so far away from the most iconic image (‘The Scream’) ever created in art.”

Even the most whimsical pieces at the sales couldn’t quell buyers’ enthusiasm.

Christie’s catalog entry for a life-size wax likeness of magazine publisher Peter Brant by the artist Urs Fischer said the artwork had 14 wicks that “when lit, turn `Untitled (Standing)’ into a giant candle that slowly melts to the floor.”

It was a move that hopefully was not contemplated by the buyer, who paid a record $1.3 million for it.