"I can see the whole bank account and there's no money in it!" — Lichtenstein piece expected to fetch $35 mil

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An iconic — and, they say, ironic — Roy Lichtenstein painting based on a drawing by William Overgard is expected to sell for $35-45 million at a Christie’s auction. In 1988 the painting sold for $2.1 million, but a recent Lichtenstein sale for $42.6 million suggest the market for his work has expanded a bit more. The painting has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Lichtenstein based the image on a Steve Roper panel by Overgard, which is reproduced at the Deconstructing Lichtenstein Flickr set. Experts think the copy is quite something, however.

“There’s no romance, there’s no woman and it’s quite dark, but it’s a marvelous painting,” said Lucy Mitchell-Innes, co- owner of Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York, which has mounted four solo Lichtenstein exhibitions in the past 10 years. “It epitomizes Roy’s use of irony, which is the most important theme throughout his work.”


Yes, irony. Hahahaha.

What were we just saying about cartoonists not getting paid a living wage?

Comments

  1. While I think original comic art is grossly undervalued (one shouldn’t, for example, be able to buy a hand-colored Henry Tuttle Bungle Family Sunday page from 1926 for $190, but I just did), William Overgard was certainly paid a living wage for drawing comic strips.

    The price for the Lichtenstein piece is outrageous but perfectly reflects the fact that the wealthiest people in the world currently have so much excess money that they are bidding up luxury items (like fine art) like never before. Well, not quite like never before–our current period reminds me of that period in American history that Mark Twain called the “gilded age” and that Thorstein Veblen wrote about in “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” in which he coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption.”

  2. Torsten Adair says:

    It’s called “appropriation”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appropriation_(art)

    Unless somebody does it at a comics convention.
    Then it’s piracy and plagiarism.
    (Compare Jasper Johns’ “Alley Oop” to those painting over photographs.)

    Meanwhile…
    There are the fake Warhol Superman collages from 1960-61, using images from 1966 and 1968.

    Comic Book Legends Revealed #291

    And for more on the subject of comics and fine art:
    “The Comic Art Show” of 1983, exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Downtown.

  3. Torsten Adair says:

    And in other news, those wandering NYCC might have seen these at the Heritage Auctions booth:

    Jack Kirby and Joe Simon Adventure Comics #73 Manhunter Cover Original Art (DC, 1942)

    Jerry Robinson Detective Comics #67 First Penguin Cover Original Art (DC, 1942)

    Both expected to fetch six digits.

  4. I look through those art auction bins at The Strand a lot and what is really scary is all the beautiful old master stuff goes for next to nothing compared to pop art. Like stuff from the 15th century would be a couple thousand but stuff like this is astronomically priced.

    And the original page was probably propping up someone’s desk to keep it from wobbling.

  5. So wait, I can paint a Byrne/Austin panel from X-men on canvas, change a word or two and become a Pop Art Icon? How is Lichtenstein not compared to Rob Granito? Will Granito’s paintings be pop art auction items in 20 years?

  6. Matthew Southworth says:

    The difference is that the work of Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Warhol, etc., isn’t necessarily about technique or pictorial representation but about contextualization. That RL is taking something regarded as lowbrow trash–a panel from a comic book–and blowing it up in size and framing it takes what had been disposable and makes it suddenly demanding of attention.

    I don’t have any measurement of the monetary value of that, and I don’t think it’s a question of who deserves the money, the original artist or the recontextual artist, whatever, but I do think it’s worthy of attention and at least historical respect.

  7. Very little pisses me off more than a story like this. I earn pennies on art I slave over, meanwhile this jerk wad gets millions for a poor copy that if I had done it, I’d likely would have been sued or at least ritaquled

  8. Whenever Lichtenstein’s pop paintings show up and people actually swoon over them, it grates at me. The artistic community calls it appropriation and celebrates it. I call it the sweetest con around. He’s elevated the art of thievery to yet another level.

  9. David Balan says:

    As a technical endeavor, the painting is awful. The original drawing was probably done in a fraction of the time and looks at least twice as good.

    But I actually find it hilarious that this painting, given its message (‘irony’ is an academic way of saying the painting is the vehicle for a joke) is selling for that amount of money to the snooty art collectors it pokes fun at.

    That’s a real laugh. I bet Lichtenstein, Johns, and Rauschenberg would get a huge kick out of this. These were precisely the people they were making fun of, and they’re STILL unaware of it.

    Heh.

  10. “That RL is taking something regarded as lowbrow trash–a panel from a comic book–and blowing it up in size and framing it takes what had been disposable and makes it suddenly demanding of attention.”

    That’s one of my biggest frustrations with Liechtenstein, actually — the *only* reason he got big was because his audience couldn’t conceive the idea that comics actually had artistic value, so someone copying from them and calling art art was revolutionary.

    My other biggest frustration is that when placed next to the originals, Liechtenstein’s inevitably come out as the inferior drawings. Couldn’t even steal well.

  11. Good points all.

    While I agree that this piece is pretty shoddy, some of Liechtenstein’s work is really good.

    When he breaks artwork down and paints a larger piece using ben-day dots, he brings a transformative quality to the work that I think is really striking.

  12. Matthew Southworth says:

    @Niels–I used to feel that way, too, but I’ve come to a different conclusion. The general public value of comics as trash was the setting for some unknown guy to use them in a leap to another medium, but it wasn’t due to his own bias against them (I don’t know whether RL admired comics or detested them, although that’s really beside the point).

    As to his illustrative/cartooning ability, I see what you mean, but I think again the point was not to illustrate an image–a plane in a dogfight, a woman in tears–but to illustrate “trash” in a different setting, in a sort of corollary to Duchamp’s urinal in a museum. So I think there’s an argument to be made that he didn’t want the illustrative part to be appealing in any way and might have deliberately dumbed those images down.

    Lichtenstein isn’t one of my favorites by a long shot, but for years I didn’t understand what was interesting about his work. I had to do a little time-travel to figure out the impact and appeal, but I eventually came to find it pretty stimulating.

  13. Matthew Southworth says:

    By the way, on an only barely-related note–right now on Netflix there’s an excellent documentary about the Los Angeles/Venice art scene in the late 1950s called “The Cool School” that I stumbled on and recommend. Very interesting, particularly of its picture of Venice, CA, which I’ll always think of as the home of “Touch of Evil” and Roger Corman’s company, Concorde, where I worked for two weeks in the 90s.

  14. AfterHoursAl,TM says:

    Roy ( “Roy, may I call you Roy”?) might have been the first person to succeed in having a comic book art panel displayed on a gallery wall.
    Having said that, I think the comic publishers should be claiming a sales percentage for royalties every time Roy’s panel swipes come up for auction.

    And there should be an agreement that the original art panel should be shown next to Roy’s swipe, photo enlarged to the same size as a comparison. Fully footnoted, credited.

  15. Xenos says:

    Lichtenstein pretty clearly seems to echo the public’s conception that comics were trash and his whole schtick was taking low brow garbage like comics and elevating them [puts nose up in air] to high art.

    The guy was a stuck up asshole that looked down on comics and used a gimmick as an excuse for plagiarism.

    I get sick whenever I hear art students or people who don’t know crap about comics list Lichtenstein as a comic book artist or even a great artist.

    I learned long ago that tracing other people’s art is wrong and lazy. Sadly man in the art community, as well as many making millions, think that it’s a rule of thumb and not a wrongdoing to be avoided.

    I don’t see how anyone who loves the artform of comics can stand the jerk.

  16. Lichtenstein did take precise panels for inspiration. There are several books about him that I would recommend reading if you want to know more about his motivations and inspirations. His goal was to construct images using only things that had existed somewhere else first. He very often took something cliche and made it even more cliche. He sometimes purposely made the proportions and drawing unartistic.

    Looking at the entire body of his work (not just the few based on comics panels) would give one an idea of what he was trying to say through his art.

    That said, I do agree that when art based on appropriated images sells for these kind of sums, the original artist should share in the profits.

  17. Every time I hear about what a great artist he was and how he based his work on this or that when it’s a blatant rip off I feel ill. There were and are Comic Book Artists and Cartoonists who are far better at their craft then he ever was. Then again art is subjective. My two and a half cents.

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