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Wesselmann Market Catching Up to Fellow Pop Artists’ Prices

Tom Wesselmann (1931–2004) is considered a major figure in Pop art, but prices for his work have always lagged far behind those of his contemporaries, such as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol.

NEW YORK—Tom Wesselmann (1931–2004) is considered a major figure in Pop art, but prices for his work have always lagged far behind those of his contemporaries, such as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol. With several six- and ­seven-figure auction prices achieved in recent years, however, Emilio Steinberger, a director of the New York branch of Haunch of Venison, told ARTnewsletter, prices for Wesselmann’s work are finally catching up with those for his peers.

“When I started working with Tom, back in 2002, the highest auction price for any of his work was around $900,000,” Steinberger said, referring to Great American Nude No. 44, 1963, an acrylic and collage on board with an assemblage of a radiator and other household objects, which sold at Christie’s in May of that year for $944,500, well above the estimate of $600,000/800,000. Last May, Great American Nude No. 48, 1963, a similar large-scale painting with assemblage, sold for $10.7 million at Sotheby’s, exceeding the $6 million/8 million estimate. “I think there is a growing appreciation of his achievement and the quality of his work,” Steinberger added.

Wesselmann’s work has been exhibited at a number of galleries in the United States and abroad, though the artist’s longest-standing professional affiliation was with Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, which represented him exclusively from 1966 until 1999, when it closed. Haunch of Venison, which is owned by auction house Christie’s, now represents the Wesselmann estate, and has already announced plans for several major exhibitions.

The gallery is planning a retrospective of Wesselmann’s drawings this November, to include black-and-white sketches, gouaches and drawings on canvas, as well as painted metal cutouts, which will travel to Haunch of Venison’s London branch. Many of the drawings were sketches for paintings; others are intended to be works of art in themselves.

A retrospective of Wesselmann’s painting is also being planned, and will travel to a half-dozen U.S. museums—venues have not been finalized yet—beginning in 2011 or 2012, according to Stein­berger. Both shows will include pieces on loan from members of the Wesselmann family and from the estate, as well as others borrowed from private and institutional collections. Steinberger said the estate has “a good body of work.”

Prices for drawings range widely, from $25,000 for small pencil drawings on sketchbook paper to $950,000 for larger, 60-by-48-inch pastels on paper. Painted-metal works are priced from $40,000 for pieces in editions of up to 25 to $350,000/375,000 for unique works. Prices are even higher for larger and more complex pieces. Paintings are priced according to size—$250,000 and up for 8-by-10-inch works, $10 million and up for 96-by-120-inch oils—and subject matter.

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