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Leonid Bershidsky

Why Pay $15 Million for a White Canvas?

A canvas by Robert Ryman fetched $15 million at auction this week, creating a milestone in the history of white-on-white painting.
It is what you see.

It is what you see.

Photographer: Linda Nylind/Hayward Gallery via Bloomberg

In a record month for New York art auctions, one standout was an all-white work that sold for $15 million. Even if one lacks Tom Wolfe's courage to doubt the value of contemporary art, the multi-million-dollar price tag for some white paint on canvas cannot but raise existential questions.

White paintings are something of a philosophical tradition. Kazimir Malevich started it in 1918 with "Suprematist Composition: White on White":