Selling Australia's Most Valuable Painting Won't Make a Dent in Our National Debt

But that fact doesn't stop Baby of the Senate, James Paterson, from calling for the government to auction off Jackson Pollock's <i>Blue Poles</i>.

VICE Staff

VICE Staff

Jackson Pollock's "Blue Poles" hanging in the The National Gallery of Australia. Image via Flickr user Kae Yen Wong.

Liberal Senator James Paterson has called for the Australian Government to sell off what's undoubtedly the most expensive artwork in its collection—Jackson Pollock's Number 11, 1952, perhaps better known as Blue Poles.

Bought by the Whitlam Government in 1973 for $1.3 million, Paterson says the piece is now valued at up to $350 million by its insurers. The Senator believes this money should be used to pay down the national debt.

According to the latest budget, Australia's national debt currently sits at just over $37.1 billion. Selling Blue Poles would, theoretically, wipe 0.94 percent of this.

Senator James Paterson delivering his maiden speech to the Senate. Image via YouTube

"My view is that it's not appropriate for the Federal Government to own a single piece of art worth $350 million," Paterson told the ABC. "It would be one of the most expensive paintings in the world."

In fact, if it fetched that price, Blue Poles would be the most expensive painting in the world—by a fair margin. Currently, the record is held by Willem de Kooning's Interchange, which was sold to investment banker Ken Griffith in late 2015 for $300 million. It's therefore worth asking whether $350 million is realistic, or even where that number came from.

The National Gallery of Australia told VICE it doesn't release information about the retail or insurance value of artworks in its collection. However, in 2012, the NGA's director, Ron Radford, told the Canberra Times that Blue Poles was only worth around $200 million.

In the same interview, Radford said Blue Poles was one of the gallery's most popular paintings. The entire NGA collection is worth $5.35 billion.

A spokesperson from Paterson's office said the Senator's valuation of Blue Poles came from an Australian Financial Review story, which noted that "according to sources [the insured value] was upgraded to $350 million for the painting's move overseas" where it will be exhibited for a year at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.