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10 Extraordinary Plain Art Pieces That Are Worth a Fortune

by Adrian Sharp
fact checked by Rachel Jones

We often think of vibrant colors, intricate details, and complex compositions when it comes to art. However, a world of plain art pieces manages to captivate and enthrall with their simplicity. These seemingly modest creations have made a big splash in the art world, commanding eye-popping prices that would make anyone do a double take. Here are ten extraordinary plain art pieces that are worth a fortune.

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10 $60 Million: White on White by Kazimir Malevich

A new world after the Russian Revolution: Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White

You’re strolling through an art gallery, and you come across Kazimir Malevich’s White on White. At first glance, you might raise an eyebrow and think, “Is this some kind of art prank?” I mean, it’s a white square slapped onto a white canvas. But wait; there’s more than meets the eye.

In 1918, when this piece emerged, it was like a visual mic drop. This was the birth of the Suprematist movement, where Malevich ditched recognizable art and embraced pure abstraction! 

The piece might seem like someone ran out of paint or creative steam, but that’s where the magic lies. It’s a rebellion against traditional art; this unassuming white-on-white combo carries the weight of innovation, sparking a revolution that rippled through the art universe.

So, why’s it worth $60 million? Well, think of it this way: You’re not just buying a canvas but gaining a piece of history. This simple square is an OG trailblazer of abstract expression.

9 $70 Million: Untitled. by Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly’s ‘Untitled’

Cy Twombly’s Untitled.>> is a bit like that glorious mess you used to make with crayons as a kid—except if that mess was made by a maestro. Imagine a sprawling canvas that is an open invitation for your wildest scribbles and doodles. Twombly’s work captures that spirit, with his seemingly spontaneous marks and smudges converging into an artistic frenzy that’s as captivating as a firework display.

At first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s just a collection of random lines and shapes, a Rorschach test for art enthusiasts. But there’s a method in this artistic madness. Twombly orchestrates his marks with an almost childlike playfulness, yet a deliberate intention lies beneath every stroke. It’s as if he tapped into the primal essence of creativity, letting his hand flow freely, capturing fleeting thoughts and emotions in a visual symphony.

Don’t let the apparent simplicity fool you. It’s this very simplicity that underscores Twombly’s genius. Untitled. showcases his ability to distill complex ideas into their most basic forms, inviting us to ponder the nature of artistic expression and the beauty of the unrefined. And if the price tag of $70 million at auction is any indication, there’s no shortage of admirers who recognize the treasure in Twombly’s scribbled playground

8 $80 Million: Black Square by Kazimir Malevich

The Revolution of the Black Square | HENI Talks

Have you heard about Malevich’s masterpiece Black Square? It’s a mind-bender from 1915, and at first glance, it’s just a big black square staring back at you. Are you having deja vu from White on White? Me too.

Kazimir Malevich created the art movement Suprematism, characterized by simple shapes and a limited amount of color. And get this—people go nuts for this square. It’s like art’s version of a rock star. Valued at a jaw-dropping $80 million, it’s become a symbol of artistic rebellion and a showcase of how something seemingly simple can carry deep meaning.

7 $75 Million: Yellow Red Blue by Ellsworth Kelly

A Tribute to Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly’s Yellow Red Blue comprises no fuss, no frills, just three big, bold panels of color hanging out together. I mean, the title says it all, right? We’re talking yellow, red, and blue, the holy trinity of primary colors.

You might think, “Hold on a second, I could do that with some paint and a weekend,” but that’s where the magic happens. Because simplicity, my friend, is deceiving. Kelly was a color wizard, a maestro of hues. He knew how to simultaneously make a color scream, sing, and dance. Those three colors—each standing proud on its panel—aren’t just random picks from a crayon box. They’re chosen with precision due to Kelly’s keen eye and artistic finesse.

And guess what? This isn’t just a casual art piece. Nope, it’s got some serious clout. It’s not every day that a piece of art fetches a jaw-dropping $75 million, but Yellow Red Blue did just that. That price tag isn’t just for three squares of color; it’s for the legacy, the innovation, and the sheer brilliance that Kelly brought to the canvas.

6 $82 Million: Orange by Mark Rothko

Rothko, No. 210/No. 211 (Orange)

Standing before Rothko’s Orange, you can’t help but get sucked into a contemplative vortex. Your mind starts wandering, thoughts and feelings swirling like leaves in the wind. It’s like meditation without the “om.” You might not even realize it, but you’re going through an emotional journey hidden behind that seemingly simple orange canvas.

Sure, it’s just one color, but that’s where the magic lies. That orange isn’t just any orange—it’s a concentrated blast of emotion. The intensity is off the charts, practically screaming at you from across the room. And Rothko, oh boy, every brushstroke was calculated and deliberate. It’s like he’s leading you into a secret garden of your own thoughts.

Collectors aren’t blind to this magic. They willingly shell out millions—and we’re talking up to $82 million—to purchase this experience. It’s not just a painting; it’s an emotional investment. Let yourself get lost in its intensity. It might just take you places you never knew existed.

5 $3.4 Million: Homage to the Square by Josef Alber

Josef Albers’s Homage to the Square: Aurora

Have you ever thought a bunch of squares could tug at your heartstrings? Well, Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square series is here to prove that geometry isn’t just about angles and measurements. These paintings are like a colorful dance of nested squares that might make you rethink your appreciation for shapes.

Albers transforms these seemingly simple squares into an emotional rollercoaster of colors. It’s like he’s teasing your eyes, making you question if color is really what it seems when it’s sitting next to another one. You’ve got one square inside another, each with its own hue, and the magic happens when they interact. They play mind games with your vision, creating a symphony of optical effects that can make your brain do a little happy dance.

Hold onto your chair because these pieces aren’t just playing tricks—they’re also playing hardball in the art market. Can you believe that these paintings are worth millions? Yeah, you read that right. Some art aficionados have actually shelled out up to a whopping $3.4 million for one of these squares-on-squares masterpieces.

4 $200 Million: Number 17A by Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock | AB EX NY

You’ve probably seen those cool paintings where it’s like the artist just went berserk with a paintbrush. That’s Jackson Pollock, the mastermind behind the chaotic ballet of paint. 

Take Pollock’s masterpiece Number 17A, for example. It’s like he tossed all the rules out the window and let the paint do its wild dance on the canvas. Layers upon layers of drips and splatters make up this art tornado. It’s like a paint party where every drop has its own groove, and they all come together to create this vibrant explosion of colors.

Here’s the kicker: This artwork, which could easily be mistaken for paintball target practice, is worth a whopping $200 million. Yup, you heard it right. People might scratch their heads and wonder why someone would spend so much on something that looks like a paint accident, but that’s the beauty of art, right? It’s in the eye of the beholder. 

3 $72 Million: White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) by Mark Rothko

How to Look at a Mark Rothko Painting

Let’s talk about this piece called White Center by Rothko. It’s a masterclass in the emotional power of color. Imagine a canvas that’s not just colors sitting there but a whole universe of feelings coming to life. Layers of these colors dance and mingle, creating an experience that’s more than paint on canvas.

You’ve got to admit art sometimes has this magical ability to go beyond what’s right in front of your eyes, and White Center is the poster child for that. Those hues on the canvas aren’t just colors; they’re like emotions turned tangible. It’s like Rothko took a bunch of feelings, squeezed them onto his palette, and then let them flow onto the canvas.

Now, let’s talk numbers. This bad boy is valued at $72 million! Now, that might sound like a crazy number for a canvas with some colors, but trust me, there’s more to it. It’s not just about the paint; it’s about what it does to you. It’s like a mood enhancer on your wall—a daily dose of emotion in color.

2 $186 Million: No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red) by Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko – Vibrations

Get ready to have your senses tickled and your mind blown. This canvas isn’t just a painting; it’s a portal to another dimension of color and emotion. Violets, greens, and reds dance and blend in Mark Rothko’s No. 6, creating a cosmic ballet that’s impossible to resist.

The way Rothko plays with these colors is like a magician wielding a palette knife. He doesn’t just slap colors on; he weaves them together like an intricate tapestry, each shade whispering a different story to your soul. And as you stand there, gazing at the canvas, you’re not just looking at a painting; you’re stepping into Rothko’s universe, where hues can move mountains within you.

Brace yourselves for the jaw-dropping fact: This masterpiece, this swirling vortex of colors and emotions, has commanded a mind-boggling $186 million. That sum could probably buy you a small island or a fleet of luxury cars. But hey, can you put a price tag on the sensation of getting lost in a sea of Rothko’s genius? Apparently, the answer is yes, a hefty one at that.

1 $35 Million: Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky

#Moscowwithyou — Mono-tour “Kandinsky. Composition VII”

Wassily Kandinsky’s Composition VII is like an art party where colors and shapes are the coolest guests. This masterpiece might not be the most straightforward painting you’ll stumble upon, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s like a puzzle of abstract forms that dance around, giving your brain a real workout.

Imagine a symphony, but you have a whirlwind of lines, circles, and squiggles instead of musical notes. The canvas is a stage where these abstract actors perform a mind-bending play. The colors? Oh boy, they’re like the notes of a wild melody. Reds and blues collide like crashing cymbals, while yellows and greens harmonize like a sweet violin duet.

Sure, at first glance, you might scratch your head and wonder what’s going on. But that’s the fun part! Composition VII is like an invitation to let your imagination run wild. It’s not about a clear-cut picture; it’s about emotions and ideas morphing into shapes and hues.

Now, imagine the crowd at an auction. With all its abstract charm, this painting managed to waltz its way into someone’s heart, or more accurately, their wallet. It fetched a whopping $35 million! That’s like having a rock star painting on your wall, bringing avant-garde vibes and a touch of class.

fact checked by Rachel Jones