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Mel Ramos’s Pop Art Strikes Chord With European Collectors

Work by American Pop artist Mel Ramos continues to draw a devoted and widening audience and collector base in Europe, particularly in Austria and Germany.

NEW YORK—Work by American Pop artist Mel Ramos continues to draw a devoted and widening audience and collector base in Europe, particularly in Austria and Germany.

A retrospective marking the artist’s 75th birthday, which is currently on view (through May 29) at the Albertina, Vienna—a museum better known for its focus on blue-chip modern masters such as Picasso—was shown in Germany earlier, at the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich (June 24-Oct. 3, 2010), and at the Kunsthalle Tübingen (Jan. 23-April 25, 2010).

An earlier Ramos retrospective, in 1994–95, traveled to three German venues—the Kunstverein Lingen, Lingen; the Mannheimer Kunstverein, Mannheim; the Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kiel—and then to Vienna, to the Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst.

Vienna dealer Ernst Hilger has represented Ramos since the mid-1990s and publishes editions of the artist’s prints. Gallery director Michael Kaufmann told ARTnewsletter “Ramos was rediscovered in Europe in the 1994 retrospective, and that interest has continued to grow.” He added that “the current show at the Albertina has led to many inquiries at the gallery.”

Commenting on the artist’s popularity with Austrians and Germans, Hilger says that Europeans “have less problems with nudity. [They] can see the quality of the work. At the moment, the show at the Albertina surpasses all expectations.” Through April 16, Hilger’s own gallery is exhibiting four recent Ramos paintings, as well as a sculpture, some drawings, watercolors and prints by the artist, and Kaufmann said that there have been a number of sales. Over the years, all Ramos exhibitions have sold out, says Hilger, and “since 1990 we have sold all Ramos works within a year.”

In addition to Ramos’s longtime Manhattan dealer Louis K. Meisel, the artist is represented in France by Galerie Patrice Trigano, by Levy Galerie in Hamburg, Germany, and by Modernism in San Francisco.

Martin Muller, owner of Modernism, says that “demand for Mel’s work has grown exponentially over the past 10 years.” He attributes the increase in interest and prices in part to changing perceptions of the work. “During the 1960s and ’70s, he was subjected to criticism from feminists, who attacked him for a chauvinistic and misogynistic treatment of women.… But now, with so much nudity and sexually provocative images in advertising, the media and the popular culture…his work is seen as exposing the view of women as objects of consumption.”

Muller also noted that, with the sky-high prices for East Coast Pop artists, such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, more attention has been paid to West Coast Pop artists.

Ramos produces roughly half a dozen new works each year, typically 36 inches in height, and they range in price from $475,0000/500,000, according to Meisel. Vintage works from the 1960s sell for prices ranging from $1 million/$3 million, he says, adding that the highest price he has realized for a Ramos painting is $2.6 million.

Ramos usually paints—and sometimes sculpts—highly realistic nude and seminude women in provocative poses, reminiscent of the calendar pin-ups of Alberto Vargas.

The Meisel gallery’s last show of new work by the artist was in 2009—“and we did very well”—but Meisel says he doesn’t expect to do another for two or three years, because of the slow and meticulous pace of Ramos’s painting and the fact that the artist has been intimately involved with the current retrospective at the Albertina. “We have been selling more in Europe recently,” Meisel said. “It’s probably because of the retrospective being there.”

In addition to the 36-inch-tall paintings, Ramos occasionally produces smaller paintings of women’s heads, which sell for $100,000/125,000, and his pencil drawings are priced from $40,000/50,000.

Some collectors have commissioned portraits, also, generally 36 inches tall, which are priced at $250,000. Actress Pamela Anderson commissioned Ramos to paint her posing nude, in 2008. Meisel said that Anderson “came to his studio with her hairdresser and stylist. She wore a robe and nothing else. Ramos called her the best model he ever had.”

Ramos has also created seven plastic, or cold-cast, sculptures in editions of eight, selling for $200,000 at half life-size and $400,000 for life-sized figures.

Modernism sells Ramos’s prints, including lithographs and screenprints, as well as digital prints, at prices ranging from $300/3,000.

Ramos’s paintings in oil or acrylic have come up at auction with regularity, with the highest prices being realized at European auctions. The top price to date is $1 million for the 1964 oil Peek-a-Boo #2 at Christie’s London in 2006. Other top prices include $890,000 for the 1964 acrylic Peek-a-Boo Platinum #2 at Sotheby’s London in 2007 and $820,000 for the 1966 oil Pucci Pants at Sotheby’s London in 2008.

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