Source: Sotheby's

Collectors Just Spent Millions on Contemporary Art. What Could You Buy Instead?

Picasso or private jet? Potato, potahto. Contextualizing New York’s fall art auctions.

Over the past two weeks, $2.3 billion worth of art sold at auction at Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips in New York. It's a heady number, though several insiders seemed to feel it's evidence the art market is actually cooling down: If every artwork had reached its top estimate, the final tally would have been much higher. 

Sure. The auctions could have done better, but it might behoove everyone to take a step back and put these seven-, eight-, and nine-figure numbers in perspective.

The top five lots sold during New York's November auctions totaled $457.8 million, which is $35 million more than it cost to build the entire 200,000 square foot Renzo Piano-designed Whitney Museum of American Art in New York's Meatpacking District. The top 10 lots totaled $678.8 million, which is the same number as the five-time European champion Barcelona Soccer Club's total 2013/14 annual sales

This isn't to say that people shouldn't buy art, or that they should value boats, planes, or mansions over paintings; there are arguably far more frivolous things to blow $30 million on than a Picasso. But for insiders and casual observers alike, it's easy to get swept away by the numbers that are airily tossed around during the sales. So we're bringing them back down to earth. 

Below, find the auction's top 10 lots, with what you could buy for (roughly) their equivalent amount.

1. $170,405,000 : Modigliani’s Nu Couché or the Broad Museum


Left: Amedeo Modigliani, Nu Couché, 1917-18. Right: Billionaire collector Eli Broad's new museum in downtown L.A.

Source: (from left) Christie’s Images Ltd. 2015; Spencer Lowell/Bloomberg


2. $95,365,000: Lichtenstein’s Nurse or a Long Island Estate


Left: Roy Lichtenstein, Nurse, 1964. Right: A waterfront estate with 60,000 square feet of living space in Kings Point, Long Island. 

Source: (from left) Christie’s Images Ltd. 2015; Coldwell Banker Homes


3. $70,530,000: Twombly’s Untitled (New York City) or a Superyacht


Left: Cy Twombly, Untitled (New York City), 1968. Right: The owner of the Washington Redskins, Dan Snyder, reportedly paid 70 million for this super yacht in 2011.

Source: (from left) Sotheby’s; Peter Seyfferth/


4. $67,450,000: Picasso’s La Gommeuse or a G650 Jet


Left: Pablo Picasso, La Gommeuse, 1901. Right: The fastest private jet on the market.


Source: (from left) Sotheby's; SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg


5. $54,010,000: Van Gogh’s Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé or Donald Trump’s Former Greenwich Mansion


Left: Vincent van Gogh, Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé, 1889. Right: A mansion for sale on Long Island Sound in Connecticut, reportedly Trump's first residence after marrying Ivana.

Source: (from left) Sotheby's; Tamar Lurie (


6.  $47,514,000: Warhol’s Mao or Having LeBron James on Your Team


Left: Andy Warhol, Mao, 1972. Right: LeBron James's reported two-year signing contract to join the Cleveland Cavaliers was $47 million.

Source: (from left) Sotheby's; David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images


7. $37,770,000: Malevich’s Mystic Suprematism (Black Cross on Red Oval) or All the Destroyed Aston Martins in Spectre



Left: Kazimir Malevich, Mystic Suprematism (Black Cross on Red Oval), 1920-22. Right: A reported $37 million worth of cars was destroyed in the filming of the new James Bond flick.

Source: (from left) Sotheby's; © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq, LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.


8. $34,885,000: Freud’s Brigadier or Notre Dame’s Corbett Family Hall and Endowed Football Coaching Position


Left: Lucian Freud, The Brigadier, 2003-04. Right: Richard Corbetts's $35 million gift included $25 million for a new 280,000-square-foot building at Notre Dame, his alma mater, and $10 million to endow a head football coaching position.

Source: (from left) Christie's Images Ltd.; University of Notre Dame


9. $33,850,000: Monet’s Nymphéas or Hillary Clinton's Entire Fall War Chest 


Left: Claude Monet, Nymphéas, circa 1908. Right: The Clinton campaign's reported cash on hand for fall 2015 is $33 million.

Source: (from left) Sotheby's; Daniel Acker/Bloomberg


10. $30,965,000: Gauguin’s Thérèse or Julia Roberts’s Hawaiian Estate


Left: Paul Gauguin, Thérèse, 1902-03. Right: Roberts's estate in Hanalei Bay, Kauai, features 213 feet of beachfront and seven bedrooms, plus neighbors Chuck Norris and Mark Zuckerberg.

Source: (from left) Christie's Images Ltd.; Zillow
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    Watch Next: New York's Fall Art Auctions Bring in $2.3 Billion 

    New York's Fall Art Auctions Bring in $2.3 Billion

    Correction: A previous version of this story stated No.5 as the mansion Trump lived in with Ivanka after their marriage. That's his daughter. Ivana is his wife. 

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