By Jonathan Binder, CNN
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(CNN) – Earlier this month in New York, the two renown art auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, both had record setting sales.
At Christie’s, one of Jackson Pollock’s iconic drip paintings “No. 19, 1948” was sold for $58 million, which crushed the painting's previous sale in 1993 of just $2.4 million.
Works from 12 contemporary artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat, sold for record prices. The sale of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s totaled $495 million – the highest sales figure at any art auction.
The night before Christie’s auction on May 14 was Sotheby’s sale of contemporary art. The featured work was Barnett Newman’s "Onement VI." The final price tag: $43.8 million.
It's a big canvas, but it's a pretty simple painting. The entire thing is blue, except for a white strip down the middle. But Alan Bamberger, who is an art consultant and appraiser, explains so much more goes into the value of a painting that what’s on the canvas:
[2:35] "It's the condition, it's the look, it's how it fits into the artist's career. But then it's the history – the ownership history, the exhibition history. A painting that's been exhibited in a lot of museum shows, that gives it significance over similar paintings."
All of these factors can make buying an expensive piece of art difficult. And personal finance and investing expert Walter Updegrave says these factors don't guarantee a painting will be a good investment. He says investing in art to make money is risky:
[5:05] "Don't spend more than you should be because you're trying to convince yourself it's going to be a great investment, you're going to get a great return and you're going to send a kid to college on it. Because that may not happen."
If you choose to play, it's a game in which you have to know what you're doing, according to art journalist Abigail Esman. So instead of buying art purely to make a profit, Esman who also collects art herself, says you have to be in love with the piece.
[5:41] "If you love it, buy it. If you choose well, one day you'll be able to sell it for a profit, and if you choose very well you probably won't want to."