Why Art Is (Still) More Expensive Than Ever

Mark Rothko

hide captionInspecting work by Mark Rothko, an American painter whose works are wall-friendly and can sell for more than $50 million apiece.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Art writer Lindsay Pollock says giant sales at this week's New York art auctions suggest this is an art market climbing ever higher in price, regardless of that worldwide credit crunch.

On Tuesday, Christie's auction house sold 57 works for a combined $348 million. Records were set: A Mark Rothko painting earned more than $50 million and a Lucien Freud painting netted more than $33 million, the most ever paid for a work by a living artist.

"Everyone was shaking their heads,'" says Pollock, who reports on the art market for Bloomberg news. "Why is it seemingly insulated from the turmoil? These people are so rich, it doesn't even matter."

But Pollock cautions that last night's haul doesn't necessarily indicate the state of the entire art market. Dominated by superpopular contemporary Western art, Christie's spread Tuesday represented work with the broadest international appeal. "There are people all over the world that want this stuff, so it's going to stay afloat a lot longer," Pollock says.

Buyers from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been particularly profligate — though Pollock says it was American buyers who snapped up 70 percent of Tuesday's lot. (That said, there were no reports of "U.S.A.-U.S.A." chants from the cool, Prada-wearing crowd.)

Art's cognoscenti assemble again tonight, for an auction at Sotheby's that Pollock says could give even firmer confirmation that the art market remains Teflon among so much cheap creditless steel.

Whereas Tuesday's Christie's sale included wall-friendly works such as those color blobs by Rothko, Pollock says Wednesday's haul features more difficult works, such as a highly anticipated triptych from Francis Bacon.

That Bacon painting? "It's vultures gnawing on a headless guy's body," Pollock says.

Even if won't be an effortless hang in that Dubai condo, Pollock says it should still fetch at least $70 million.

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