Last night at Christie's in New York, this painting by Mark Rothko – "Orange, Red, Yellow", from 1961 – sold for $86,882,500, the auction record for an artwork made after the Second World War. As with last week's auction-record sale of Edvard Munch's "Scream", for $119.9 million, the price may have less to do with the work's earth-shaking importance or quality than with how easy it is to take in. If there's one thing to say about almost any Rothko, it's that it looks fine – and this one looks finer than most.
I'm not claiming that Rothko made over-the-sofa pictures, but "Orange, Red, Yellow" sure would go great with a couch. Whereas I'd like to imagine that the very, very greatest works of modern art – the ones that set the art-historical records, as it were – are so challenging, they might give a billionaire pause before bidding. Maybe the true gems in most sales are the works that fetch less than they ought to.
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