Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Q. Can art really get any more expensive? A. 'We will see a billion dollar work'

By William Lee Adams, for CNN
May 19, 2014 -- Updated 0928 GMT (1728 HKT)
Many of the most expensive pieces of art have been sold behind closed doors -- making precise figures hard to come by -- but even the lowest estimates are eye-watering. <i>The Card Players</i>, painted by Paul Cézanne in 1892/3, was reportedly sold to the State of Qatar in April 2011 for between $250 - $300 million. Many of the most expensive pieces of art have been sold behind closed doors -- making precise figures hard to come by -- but even the lowest estimates are eye-watering. The Card Players, painted by Paul Cézanne in 1892/3, was reportedly sold to the State of Qatar in April 2011 for between $250 - $300 million.
HIDE CAPTION
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
The most expensive pieces of art ever sold
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Insiders believe that we will see a billion-dollar piece of art in our lifetime
  • Last year Christie's sold more than $7 billion of fine art, breaking its all-time record
  • Global sales of fine art reached $65.5 billion in 2013

(CNN) -- When Christie's launches the latest auction at its New York showroom this evening, gavels will fall. Prices, however, will almost certainly rise ... and rise.

For its Post-war Masters and Contemporary Evening Sale, one of this year's headline art auctions, Christie's has on offer masterpieces including Francis Bacon's Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, Gerhard Richter's Abstraktes Bild (712), and Mark Rothko's Untitled during a night expected to fetch well north of $200 million.

Christie's estimates that the Richter work will command a price of between $22 and $28 million, the Rothko between $40 and $60 million, and the Bacon triptych around $80 million.

The house has reason to be upbeat with its estimates.

On May 12, during an auction titled "If I Live I'll See You Tuesday," buyers from 26 countries splashed out on contemporary works by artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons and Richard Prince.

Christie's sold $134.6 million of art in an hour.

Speaking to journalists after the show, Christie's Chief Executive Officer Steven Murphy suggested that buyers from emerging markets are helping keep the market vibrant.

"The number of people around the world interested in acquiring art at all levels is exploding," he said. "We are not in a bubble."

Viola Raikhel-Bolot, the director of global art advisory firm 1858 Ltd Art Advisory, believes international buyers will turn out en masse for tonight's auction.

"The place to buy post-war and contemporary art seems to remain New York," she says. "Collectors from Latin America and Asia frequent the galleries here and follow these sales very closely."

Read "The dark side of creativity: Depression + anxiety x madness = genius?"

Boom times

In recent years sales of fine art have trended in one direction: up.

According to the annual report of the European Fine Art Fair, global sales of fine art and antiques jumped 7.5% in 2013 to $65.5 billion, just under the all-time high set in 2007. This includes auction sales and estimates of anonymous sales.

In 2013, Christie's tallied more than $7 billion in sales, breaking its own record for the fourth consecutive year. In November 2013, a Christie's auction in New York brought in $782,368,375, the highest auction series in art market history.

Jeff Koons's Balloon Dog sold for $58.4 million, making it the most valuable work sold at auction by a living artist and at the same auction, Francis Bacon's triptych of Lucian Feud, sold for $142 million.

Painted in 1984, this Francis Bacon triptych "Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards" is one of the most anticipated pieces up for auction at Christie's on May 13
Courtesy CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2014

Andrew Renton, director of London's Marlborough Contemporary gallery and a professor of curating at Goldsmiths College at the University of London, points out that there are many more deals going on in private, and that some likely outstrip existing records.

"We've got an economic model which is slightly contradictory," Renton says. "Prices seem to set the value. Overpaying is almost the best thing you can do, because you start to define your own market."

But this isn't a free-for-all.

He believes buyers with deep pockets want superlative works that delve into our psyche.

"Bacon works on that model," he says. "He gets into the soul of the anxious human being. And in Rothko the abstraction is a reflection of the darkness and the contemporary condition.

"People talk about these things in monetary terms. You don't get to that monetary value unless there is a correlation with cultural value."

As classic works become more scarce, their value will continue to rise -- as will the hoopla surrounding them.

"I do not believe there is a price ceiling," Renton says. "In our lifetime we will see a billion dollar work of art."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
CNN Style
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1238 GMT (2038 HKT)
After surviving Vichy prisons and Nazi concentration camps, Brian Stonehouse became one of the most prominent fashion illustrators of his age.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
Award-winning photographer Phil Stern captured everything from the battlefield to Hollywood Boulevard. These are his most iconic images.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0216 GMT (1016 HKT)
The Sony World Photography Awards has released a collection of some of the competition's most beautiful entrants.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Zaha Hadid Qatar 2020 stadium
Are sports stadiums modern-day cathedrals? Leading architects say arenas will soon become our most important social spaces.
December 9, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Whether you think stuffed animals are cool, beautiful, or downright disturbing, this is taxidermy like you've never seen it before.
December 4, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Studio 54 has become synonymous with the glamor and excess of the late Seventies. These rare images capture its debauched side.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 1325 GMT (2125 HKT)
It's official: London's getting another landmark. This time it's a stunning plant-covered bridge partly inspired by Leonardo DiCaprio.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0747 GMT (1547 HKT)
1947 Ferrari 125 S, Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena
For fans of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Pagani, this corner of Europe is a petrol-powered promised land.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 1013 GMT (1813 HKT)
Victoria Beckham and Emma Watson were among the designers, models and taste-makers recognized at this year's British Fashion Awards.
December 2, 2014 -- Updated 1648 GMT (0048 HKT)
Duncan Campbell's It For Others, which features a dance inspired by Karl Marx and examines African art, has won the prestigious art prize.
December 1, 2014 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Simon Beck decorates snow-covered lakes and mountainsides with massive geometric designs using his footsteps as his implement.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
Houses that melt, float and flip upside down? Alex Chinneck's playful architecture sparks the imagination and begs for a photo-op.
ADVERTISEMENT