A painting by Giorgio de Chirico, often called the father of surrealism, fetched a record $385,000 here tonight in a rare and unusual auction of fine art.
"Interiore Metafisico," a small and slightly skewed layout of bobbins and biscuits painted in 1917 by the late Italian artist, toppled the previous record of $240,000 for the artist and led the 62 surrealist works from the estate of the late Barnet Hodes.
Surrealism is the 20th-century European movement that was led by de Chirico, Salvador Dali and the late Joan Miro'. But for the small and loyal group of devotees -- like Hodes, a Chicago lawyer and art patron who died in 1980 -- it is a way of life rooted in the bizarre, the absurd and the unusual.
Tonight at Christie's, 400 other aficionados -- actor Jeremy Irons, the artist Christo and Houston collector Adelaide de Menil -- watched each other pay a total of $2.6 million at the auction. Leading the surrealist sales were:
* "Flirt" (circa 1924-1925). Francis Picabia's collage touched off a spirited battle before garnering the closing bid of $214,500, more than double the generally accepted pre-sale estimate and a record for the Cuban dadaist. The mixed media, which includes toothpick, straw, staple and lead wire on canvas, had once belonged to Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara.
* "L'Heure du Visage Craquele" (1934). The large and barren landscape by Salvador Dali, who is recovering from burns suffered in a fire at his castle in Spain, sold for $187,000 -- probably less than true value. But the artist's work has, in the opinion of observers, suffered from overmarketing.
* "Lofumba ce qui Importe" (1943). The large and tortured painting of an upside-down nude by Wifredo Lam, the Cuban surrealist, touched off a heated bidding battle and sold for $253,000, more than twice pre-auction expectations.
* "Paysage Anime" (1935). The Miro' painting was the main disappointment of the evening. The $385,000 bid for the colorful and playful abstract landscape failed to achieve the estate's minimum price.
With the exception of Dali, nearly all the surrealists have died; the original movement ended in the 1960s. But the results here tonight can be traced in part to the surrealist revival -- Mary Boone has shown Picabia and the work of the New York graffiti writer Futura 2000 has been compared to the Cuban Matta -- currently going on in SoHo and the East Village.
However, for Scott Hodes, the son of the late Barnet Hodes, and Christo's lawyer, his bid was pure love. Sitting near the back of the room next to Christo and his wife, Hodes kept his paddle up to the bitter end, determined to buy the Wifredo Lam.
"I love that painting. I had to have it," he said after the sale. "I don't care how much it went for, all the money is going to the IRS anyway. People tell me it is a bargain."
"It was my first auction," said Christo. "Probably my last. I went because he is my lawyer."