Got a couple million dollars in the bank? Want to make it rain at Christie’s? Too bad, you’re a sucker who is still too poor to buy art. Please step aside.
On Monday, a Picasso painting—Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)—that, frankly, isn’t even that good sold to an unnamed bidder for $179 million, the most amount of money spent at auction on a work of art in history. This is no small pittance. In fact, it’s more money than I or you can ever even dream up on a good, Ambien-induced night of heavy sleep. While the name of the bidder has not been revealed, there were five bidders left when the auction reached the $120 million mark. That means there are five people who were willing to spend over $120 million on a Picasso painting.
Let’s assume, for a minute, that no one would spend more than 1 percent of his total net worth on a single painting. By that reckoning, the buyer of Picasso’s 1955 “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)” would need to have at least $17.9 billion in total wealth. That would imply, based on the Forbes Billionaires list, that there are exactly 50 plausible buyers of the painting worldwide.
Let’s assume, for a minute, that you are insanely wealthy. Would you spend 1 percent of your net worth on a piece of artwork by some guy who doesn’t even get the respect of his own grandchildren? Maybe, maybe not.
But some people would! The Upshot gives us more to groan at:
This is meant to be illustrative, not literal. Some people are willing to spend more than 1 percent of their wealth on a painting; the casino magnate Steve Wynn told Bloomberg he bid $125 million on the Picasso this week, which amounts to 3.7 percent of his estimated net worth. The Forbes list may also have inaccuracies or be missing ultra-wealthy families that have succeeded in keeping their holdings secret.
But this crude metric does show how much the pool of potential mega-wealthy art buyers has increased since, for example, the last time this particular Picasso was auctioned, in 1997.
Some people are willing to spend more than 1 percent of their wealth on a painting, and those people are all very cool. Using the Upshot’s same equation, in 1997 for example, only a dozen richies could have afforded the painting, which means the income gap has continued to increase steadily over the past twenty years.
Fun stuff to think about.