Is Jasper Johns New Van Gogh of the Art Market

Is Jasper Johns destined to become the Van Gogh of the contemporary art market?

He already holds the record for contemporary art sold at auction. Now, a seminal Johns painting--billed as "the most expensive and important painting by a living artist ever to be offered at auction" - is expected to smash that record in a May 3 sale at Christie's in New York.

"I think it's a fair estimate," said Martha Baer, Christie's director of 20th-Century fine arts, in a telephone interview. Conceding that the price could go much higher, she said, "It's very hard to estimate works like this and we don't want to scare people away."

Van Gogh's Irises sold for $53.9 million in November, 1998, and in the same year, Sunflowers fetched $39.9 million in March and "Bridge at Trinquetaille" brought $20.2 million.

The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1980 paid $1 million - a stunning price at the time - for his "Three Flags" painting in a private transaction.