Mark Rothko’s hovering rectangles of color suspended within monochromatic fields are among the most recognizable paintings produced in the 20th century. Working within a highly constricted format, he produced a surprisingly varied body of work coveted by collectors and museums around the world. His widespread popularity and secure position in the canon of art history, combined with rapid growth in the number of people with the means and desire to own his paintings, have transformed them into extraordinarily expensive trophy art. Since 2010, buyers at auction have spent about $1.1 billion on Rothko paintings.
The relative uniformity of Rothko’s paintings, especially when compared to other art world icons like
Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol makes them ideal candidates for using artificial intelligence tools to develop a predictive model for estimating sale prices at auction. We explain below how we developed one such model, using variables like the number of billionaires in the world and the wealth they control. We then used our model to predict the sale price of three Rothko works that will appear in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art evening sale on May 16th. But first, a brief overview of the Rothko marketplace.