Auction houses have plenty of justifications for charging $200,000 for one painting and $2 million for another, and they all start with “comparables.” Yes, $2 million might seem like a lot, the argument goes, but because similar paintings sold for a corresponding amount, the price has a market rationale.
Rationalizing the price for a $60 million painting gets a little harder. Because only a handful of artists, including Van Gogh and Picasso, have crossed that threshold, one can’t really claim there’s a thriving market. Moreover, historic demand isn’t a great indication of future sales: Just because one person has spent $60 million on a painting doesn’t mean they’ll spend it again, and it doesn’t mean other people will, either. Even multibillionaires have their preferences—and their limits.