New York's spring art auctions have always meant big money but this season has seen numerous records smashed and more than $2.6 billion coughed up in 10 days of eye-watering extravagance.
Christie's said it sold works totaling $1.72 billion this week in New York and rival auction house Sotheby's reports $893 million in sales since May 5 -- in all a 25 percent surge on May last year, driven in particular by Asian collectors.
May 11 saw two new world records in just a dizzying few minutes.
The Pablo Picasso oil painting, "The Women of Algiers (Version 0)," sold for $179.4 million after 11-and-a-half minutes of furious bidding from four to five prospective buyers at Christie's, where two auction rooms were packed.
It was the highest price for any work of art sold at auction, Christie's said, but fell short of the $300 million reportedly paid privately by Qatar for Paul Gauguin's painting "When Will You Marry?" in February.
Just moments later, a bronze statue by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, "Man Pointing," broke the record for the most expensive sculpture sold at auction, fetching $141.3 million.
Other world auction records were set for works by artists Cady Noland, Jean Dubuffet, Diane Arbus, Chaim Soutine and Peter Doig, Christie's said.
The auction house listed the buyers as anonymous but said clients from Asia, the Gulf, Russia, Europe and the United States had competed for the top 10 lots of the sale.
Overall, bidders came from 35 different countries, it said.
The next day saw more of the same.
A Mark Rothko painting sold for $46.5 million at Sotheby's, an evening in which several records were set including one for a work by German artist Sigmar Polke.
A huge painting by Christopher Wool, "Riot," went for nearly $29.9 million, compared to a pre-sale estimate of $12 million to $18 million -- a record for a living American artist.
On Wednesday, abstract expressionist Mark Rothko's "No. 10" sold for $81.9 million at Christie's, one of the highest sums ever shelled out for his work.
On Thursday, again at Christie's, a painting by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian sold for nearly $50.6 million, the most ever paid for his work.
- Exploding demand -
The die was cast on May 5 when a Vincent van Gogh painting fetched more than $66 million, the most paid for a work by the Dutch post-impressionist artist since 1998.
According to Sotheby's, "Les Alyscamps," which depicts a stand of autumnal trees, had been expected to go for around $40 million but ultimately an Asian collector paid $66.3 million after an intense bidding war between five potential buyers.
The Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group also snapped up a Monet, "Bassin aux nympheas, les rosiers," for $20.4 million, underlining the growing influence of Asian buyers.
Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby's Worldwide Impressionist & Modern Art department, stressed the international dimension.
"With winning bids executed by our Old Masters and contemporary art specialists, as well as by our chairmen in Asia and America, it's clear that today's collectors come from all corners of the globe and seek quality in all corners of the market," he said.
Underlining that assertion, screens at Christie's gave prices during sales earlier this week in seven different currencies: dollars, euros, pounds, Swiss francs, yen, Hong Kong dollars and Russian rubles.
Exponential growth in the art market, particularly for modern and contemporary works, is attributed to a growing number of private investors around the world and burgeoning interest in Asia and the Gulf.
The growing number of museums in the world and specialized investment funds are also driving up prices, experts say.
More than 720 museums that are over 54,000 square feet (5,000 square meters) will open this year across the globe, pushing demand, said Thierry Ehrmann, CEO of Artprice, a world leader in art market data.
"If a museum acquires a set of masterpieces it will very quickly get a return on its investment," he said.