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Pursuits
Businessweek

After a Pandemic Lull, Prices Soar for Blue Chip Art at Auction

The high end of the market just got higher as auction houses put $40 million price tags on their best pieces.

María Berrio’s painting The Celebration will go on sale Tuesday night at Christie’s 21st-century evening sale.

María Berrio’s painting The Celebration will go on sale Tuesday night at Christie’s 21st-century evening sale.

Source: Christie’s

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.