Paintings Made of Money Shatter Records at History's Biggest Auction

At an auction held at Christie's last night, a record-breaking $495 million was spent on paintings, surpassing individual records for works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jackson Pollock, and Roy Lichtenstein. The chairman of Christie's Americas, Marc Porter, said this was the biggest art auction in history. Some might wonder about the buyers—what are these people, made of money? Nope, just the paintings, paintings literally made of money and jewels.

"Dustheads" (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat | sold for $48.8 million

While some interpret Basquiat's paranoiac composition to refer to "Angel Dust" or PCP, this zeitgeist-oriented analysis typically misses the raison d'être for this painting. The "Dust" in "Dustheads" is a meta-reference to the white paint, which divides the center of the canvas and causes a symbolic rupture between figural tensions; it is actually made of finely crystalized diamonds.

The focal point of "Dustheads" is the foregrounded red arm of the alien figure—a play on contrapposto certainly, but also a saturated liquid ruby paint. The hypnotic eyes of the alien creature highly contrast the bright green currency pasted behind his head. Diametrically opposed to the ruby-money alien is the skeletal representation, whose face is created from thickly layered 24 carat gold paint. His right eye is a particularly exquisite sapphire. Basquiat references the gem by making the character grimace, as if the painted figure also had a 20 carat stone wedged into his eye socket.

Because of his unique use of gem stones, the Basquiat market is on the rise—overtaking Lichtenstein and de Kooning. Basquiat's 2012 auction sales, totaling $161.5 million, are double of the previous year.

"Number 19, 1948" (1948) by Jackson Pollock | sold for $58.4 million

While most misunderstand Pollock's paintings to be paint splatters that belie randomness and comment on the physical act of creation, this is actually just layers and layers of finely powdered platinum, black diamonds, exotic pearls, and white gold. In "Number 19, 1948" Pollock expanded the palate with a few dashes of liquid rubies and star sapphires give a depth to the color field. As is typical for his oeuvre, Pollock layered these jewels on top of a bed of money (British Pounds), and placed that upon a treasure map that leads to a windfall bigger than Pirates of the Caribbean cave + Goonies pirate ship + Count of Monte Cristo loot combined. Now it's understandable why "Number 19, 1948" was a top sale of the evening.

"Woman With Flowered Hat" (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein | sold for $56.1 million

Perhaps the most interesting of the set in terms of its actual worth, Lichtenstein's radically playful composition has potentially infinite value. When waved in front of any security vault camera that involves retina confirmation, the dots will confuse the sensors and open any secure area. Lichenstein left indexical clues in his painting, certainly, to amuse the buyer. The envelope between the fire crackers on the blue beret indicate to the viewer to look beyond the painting—this is just the container of potential riches. The infinity signs for the mouth and two of the noses are how many vaults can be opened (infinity * three). And then, the painted woman is standing in a vault. So while this painting is literally some paint on a canvas, the vaults of the world are open to whoever owns "Picasso reference."

Enjoy your wealth, art investors! Have fun using it to make more money!

[images via Christie's]