No.5, 1948 – Jackson Pollock – world’s most expensive painting

No.5, 1948, painted by Jackson Pollock, is currently the world’s most expensive painting ever sold. It was priced at $140 million in 2006, when it changed hands from one collector to another. Here’s my attempt at explaining what the buyer could have seen in Jackson Pollock’s painting that could justify the price tag.

Art Collectors and investors are always on the look out for gaining exclusive collector’s items, which could increase their prestige and also serve as an excellent investment medium. In the art field that means, an artwork that has made a significant impact on the history of art or an artwork created by a very influential artist. It is even better if the artist brought about a paradigm shift that changed the conventions of the time. Eg: da Vinci with Mona Lisa, Picasso with Cubism, Lichtenstein with Pop-Art.

Such works automatically assume an august stature which attracts art collectors and investors. There is also the economics of art that plays a role, the rarer the painting the better the investment. No.5, 1948 has all this going for it.

Pollock’s radical techniques and methods made sure that his drip series were (still is) talk of the art community nationally and internationally, with several show conducted in leading the US and Europe. The drip series established Pollock as a leading figure of new American painting. Pollock was an iconoclast and a rebel, which got him a reputation that made him infamous. This in turn was great publicity for his drip series. Pollock with his unconventional methods influenced many artists to abandon conventions of fine art and encourages more creativity and boundary-less expression. Pollock created art history with his new kind of paintings.

There’s also a mathematical theory that explains the popularity of  Pollock’s drip series. Mathematicians and Scientists believe that Pollok’s drip series contains a mathematical, yet natural, concept called a fractal. It is a rough, geometric object that can be subdivided into parts, each of which looks like a reduced-size copy of the whole. In a fractal pattern, each smaller configuration is a miniature, though not necessarily identical, version of the larger pattern. Mathematicians believe this phenomenon is what attracts people to Pollock’s drip series. The fractal pattern they claim is subconsciously pleasing to the eyes.

Now here is my speculation, in addition to the above qualities, the painting was also supported by economics. All of Pollock’s paintings in the drip series (this is Pollock’s trademark) are safeguarded in museums except the No.5, 1948. The paintings hanging in museums rarely get sold which in turn creates a lack of supply in the market that the only one that can be a potential asset is priced exorbitantly. Pieces like this will not only be a good investment but also a status symbol worth exhibiting.

Sources: (about Fractals)

List of the World’s most expensive paintings

Triva - world's most expensive paintings
3 paintings are works of Picasso  
2 paintings have the same model - painted by Klimt    
1 painting has a double of it, differentiated mainly by the colour, painted by van Gogh    
the latest of the lot was sold this year in May 2010, for $106.5 million     
1 painting is actually not a painting at all - its screen printing by Warhol     
3 paintings have the artists' mistress as models     
50% of the top 10 paintings were sold in 2006     

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9 Responses to “No.5, 1948 – Jackson Pollock – world’s most expensive painting”

  1. Artist Says:

    Shouldn’t art be free or at least affordable for everybody?

  2. Herb Robb Says:

    Areas of texture in this work might called geometric – if they are bounded geometrically, otherwise, where is the geometry? If that is the case, there are many textures that fit the description of a fractal surface as you have defined it in this article, like top views of aggregate concrete, sand on a beach or mud that has cracked in the sun for example. Artspeak.

    For the most part, I do not take issue with your attempt to explain why No. 5, 1948 (as well as other paintings) sold for so much money. I would like to contribute another perspective though.

    Jackson Pollack was promoted by Peggy Guggenheim. Collectors like her have enough money to CREATE the market for any artist they choose to support. That is why his patrons originally bought his work, that’s why he became famous and that’s why so-called “major works” continue to be valued at astronomical prices today.

    Those who have invested obscene amounts of money in art in the past must continue to do so – to see their investments increase in value and maintain their position as leading connoisseurs of art.

    There are lots of unrecognized artists who come up with cutting edge approaches to art, it happens often. Some of them are children. The vast majority of them go unnoticed and unheralded because they are not recognized or backed by an “annointed art authority” (i.e.; individuals who have enough money [and therefore, supposedly, the worldly
    aesthetic accumen] to pronounce to the rest of the us those artists whose work is to be recognized as meaningful.

    Before art could be placed in museums, generally only the wealthy were able to appreciate it. Typically, successful artists were court painters and their paintings were either portraits, or historical/religious works
    that often included visages of their patrons. In otherwords, the collectors were able to use art to make themselves stand apart from commoners and appear to be more important.

    When photography was popularized, 2D illusions of a 3D world lost much of their mystique. The general public became able to create endless images of themselves and thus leave their mark for posterity with great ease. Collectors needed new ways to set themselves apart from the masses. Artists also found themselves in competition with the camera. Art had to be reinvented.

    Thus, art that depicted human perception of the outer world was dubbed passe, illustrative and literal.

    Curiously, today, art which is DEPENDENT upon the written and spoken word to explain it to the uninitiated, i.e.: abstract, expessionistic, minimallistic, conceptual, etc. is not considered to be “literal” despite the fact that it, more often than not, must be explained with language to be “understood”. (Unless, of course, one is a member of the elite few who understand it inherently, but must explain it to others to convince them why it has value.)

    Eventually, artists and collectors realised that one way to set themselves apart was to claim that great art need not be done with great skill – and that if the masses could not appreciate a given work at face value, so much the better. No more, would anyone be able to value art according to any particular standard. No more would the general public, the uninitiated or the “uneducated” be able to grasp a work on its own merit.

    The means by which artists and especially art collectors could control the art market and separate the classes was to simply come up with images that required explanation by people who would benefit from convincing
    others that great art must be explained by great appreciators of art.

    There are many points that may be made to explain why the ultra-rich might pay $100,000,000+ for a “masterpiece” … but they all involve one common characteristic, self-aggrandizement.

  3. mullerjeanfrancois Says:

    A great work..

  4. Linda Summers Posey Says:

    If all art were free, how would artists earn a living? If “Artist” is actually a professional artist, that’s a question worth considering.

    In our culture, those who care about art and can afford to buy it, do so. But affordability is hardly an issue. People at every economic level have access to art. Many galleries and museums offer affordable prints for sale, as do many individual fine artists. The art community is made up of artists at every level of skill and reputation, and many of us, recognizing that we’re not household names as yet, offer our art at affordable prices. Those who can’t afford the work of an emerging artist or a print of a masterpiece are in the (perhaps enviable) position of having to visit galleries and museums to view an endless array of all kinds of art, all for free or, in the case of some museums, for a relatively modest admission fee. And the view changes every month or so!

    Thank goodness for the free enterprise system. Even the highly restricted version we now have in the US is the artist’s best friend. No artist is required to provide his or her art for free. With time, energy and effort, we can all succeed at the level our talents permit. And whatever public we are able to attract via our talents benefits from our creations.

  5. Can you really put a price on culture? « Jude Research Blog Says:

    […]… […]

  6. TheMK Says:

    Thanks for the explanation!

  7. Missing in Modern Paintings « Amber Mejias | Artworks Says:

    […] stated on Understanding Paintings[+]  “Curiously, today, art which is DEPENDENT upon the written and spoken word to explain it […]

  8. Oil Paintings Says:

    Nice to get the useful information of Jackson Pollock paintings. It’s really interesting blog. Thanks to share!

  9. Wesselgaard Says:

    Jackson Pollock, maybe the most important art painter ever. Once you have seen his paintings you cannot forget.

    The timing, from beginning of his life 1912 – until to day 2012 – he manage to become a representing icon of his time, for us to review the past.

    What he saw and understood to what he reviled; we to day see the bits and glints of his time in the most beautiful way.

    Not the poverty he experienced in the beginning of living in New York, or the poor people he lived together with under the great depression in the 1930th; how he himself had to – more or the less – find his food and accept “unemployment pay” from the government and living in cold apartments together with his brothers.

    We do not see this. We do not se the photo of a young man, very beautiful, a mother’s darling and a father’s proud ness.

    We saw a man getting lower and lower down in his own life, fighting with his inner demons. We saw a man getting older and more and more crazy, while his wife had to coop everyday with his bad behaviour and mood, only to find moments of joy and happiness.

    We saw finely a man going to peaces and dreaming of a life of love and understanding, but without no consolation what so ever, but his love to a young lady, coming to an end in a fatal car accident.

    He managed to reveal the beauty of life “even so” for us to day, that we might understand, understand ourselves. Yes, as times go by we only remember the beautiful moments, usually.

    A Genius of his time and his art. The ultimate art from Jackson Pollock, New York 1949 — spring, winter.

    When time and space find each other, led by a master – everything possible can happen. This was Jackson Pollock moment and to day we step back in admiration.

    Jackson Pollock New York.

    “The feature we will have to wait for”.

    Can I therefore invite you to have a look into “the feature”? Please have a tour on this beautiful museum in Denmark, “Rudolph Tegner Museum” where the most wonderful artist Jackson Pollock was exhibited last year; one of his outmost wonderful paintings.

    Around the museum:

    a closer look:

    Jackson Pollock most important painting.

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