NEW YORK (AP) - Paintings by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Francis Bacon and a work featuring one ton of handmade porcelain sunflower seeds by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei are among the artworks leading a Wednesday night contemporary art sale at Sotheby's.
Lichtenstein's "Sleeping Girl" and Weiwei's "Sunflower Seeds" are likely to set records for the artists.
Sotheby's sale comes on the heels of art auction history. Last week, the auction house sold Edvard Munch's "The Scream" for $119.9 million, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.
"The reason for these record-breaking sales is, quite simply, the quality of material on show," said Michael Frahm, a contemporary art adviser at the London-based Frahm Ltd. "The key is quality."
"Sleeping Girl," depicting a woman with closed eyes and flowing blond hair, is expected to fetch upward of $40 million.
One of a series of sexy comic book-inspired images created by the artist in the 1960s, the work was exhibited only once _ at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1989-90. It's being sold by the estate of Los Angeles collectors and philanthropists Beatrice and Phillip Gersh, who were the founding members of MOCA.
Lichtenstein's "I Can See the Whole Room! ... and There's Nobody in it!" holds the auction record for the artist. It sold for $43.2 million at Christie's in November.
Warhol's "Double Elvis (Ferus Type)," a silver silkscreen image of Elvis Presley depicted as a cowboy, is estimated to sell for $30 million to $50 million. The auction house said it is the first "Double Elvis" to appear on the market since 1995. Warhol produced a series of 22 images of Elvis. Nine are in museum collections.
The record for a Warhol is $71.7 million for his "Green Car Crash _ Green Burning Car I," sold at Christie's in 2007.
The Elvis silkscreen was exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1963, the year it was created.
The rock and roll heartthrob is shown armed and shooting from the hip, a shadowy Elvis figure faintly visible in the background. It is being offered for sale by a private American collector, who acquired it in 1977.
The auction catalog describes the work, based on a movie publicity photo, as "the deification of a contemporary warrior-saint, the towering, pre-eminent idol bearing a deadly weapon as if protecting the mythical world of celebrity itself."
Weiwei's "Sunflower Seeds" is one of an edition of 10 and is accompanied by a certificate signed by the artist. The hand-painted ceramic seeds, which can be arranged in a myriad of shapes, were the subject of a Tate Modern exhibit in 2010. The sackful being sold Wednesday is estimated to bring $600,000 to $800,000. The current Weiwei auction record is $657,000 for his "Chandelier," set at Sotheby's in 2007.
The work is fraught with symbolism. Sunflowers are at once a Chinese street snack and also an emblem adopted by Mao Zedong.
Another major work at the auction is Bacon's "Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror," which has been in the same private collection for more than 30 years and is set to bring $30 million to $40 million.
The painting, which depicts the artist and his partner, George Dyer, writing at a table, was included in a 1977 Paris exhibition alongside "Triptych," a 1976 work by the artist that sold for $86.2 million at Sotheby's in 2008. It held the record for any contemporary artwork at auction until Tuesday night when Mark Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow" claimed that title when it sold at Christie's for $86.8 million.
"The works by Ai Weiwei and Francis Bacon are hot for different reasons," said Lisa Fischman, director of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College. "One is electrified by the artist's political provocations, and the other by the frisson of sexual mystery."