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Art by Koons and Warhol fetches big bucks at Sothebys

NEW YORK -- It was a night of firsts. The first time Andy Warhol's "Six Self Portraits" and Jeff Koons' statue of "Popeye" were auctioned Wed. night. And the first evening auction at Sotheby's led by the auction house's newest British import Oliver Barker.

"We're going to start the bidding at 23 million dollars," Barker announced with cool grace to a several hundred potential bidders in the auction house, and dozens more joining by phone from 37 countries.

That's how Barker started the bidding for the Warhol, which sold for $30,125,000 in just three minutes and 15 seconds. That's nearly 30 seconds faster than the current world record for the men's 1-mile race.

Andy Warhol's "Six Self Portraits" Sothebys

Koons' shiny and reflective statue of "Popeye," which stands 7 feet tall, sold for $28,165,000 in just 91 seconds. Its buyer, billionaire hotel magnate Steve Wynn, already boasts one of the world's greatest private collections of art. Wynn was not in the room.

The statue won't be gone from the public eye for long as Wynn plans to place Popeye on display in one a hotel on the Las Vegas strip.

Barker, has been working as an auctioneer for the past 10 years; last night he made his first appearance as the chief auctioneer in New York at Sotheby's evening auction, "It's a very exciting moment for me this evening."

Barker offered a lively show, waving his arms and leaning right and left toward key bidders, as he ticked through priceless art with a quick British patter. "Historically there's always been many English auctioneers and I think maybe it's an art form that truly lends itself to an English accent."

Sotheby's said it pulled in about $384 million for the evening. "It was a great success," Barker said.

Barker asserted that the Warhol pieces are worth much more than their price tag.

"These are pictures which have been cherished and loved for such a long time and which are making a tremendous prize."

Jeff Koons' "Popeye" Sothebys