Mark Rothko's <i>Orange, Red, Yellow</i>, 1961, on display at Christie's in New York.

Mark Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961, on display at Christie's in New York. Photo: AFP

Mark Rothko's fiery artwork Orange, Red, Yellow has sold for a record $US86.9 million ($A86.3 million) at Christie's in New York in the biggest postwar and contemporary art auction.

The 2.4-by-2.1-metre 1961 painting surged past its $US45 million pre-sale estimate to sell for the highest price for a contemporary artwork, displacing an $US86.3 million Francis Bacon work sold at Sotheby's in May 2008.

The auction house said the total takings of $US388.5 million had beaten the previous record for a contemporary art auction, set in 2007.

''The art market is ignoring European woes,'' said Randy Slifka, a New York collector and money manager. ''People feel comfortable buying prime works by world-class artists.''