Do Wesselmann’s Nudes Keep His Prices Down?

Tom Wesselmann, Sunset Nude, Floral Blanket

For a while there, it looked like Tom Wesselmann was going to break out on the art market as pop works by Lichtenstein and Warhol drove interest in first-rank second tier painters like Wesselmann. But that momentum stalled out with the peak of the last market cycle in 2007-2008.

Since that time (8 out of his top ten prices, including the $10m record price, were made during the ’07-08 period,) two of Wesselmann’s works have sold for $3m or $4m. Sotheby’s hit the $4m mark again in New York in May but failed to follow up with a similar work estimated in the same range that stalled on the block in London in June.

National Public Radio’s Susan Stamberg went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to look at the Wesselmann retrospective organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and the Wesselmann estate. Her response to the artist’s work suggests that Wesselmann may just be too tough to domesticate:

“I don’t think you could ask for a more literal interpretation of the objectification of parts of the female body,” says curator Sarah Eckhardt. […]

Now, in 2013, Wesselmann’s tastes seem insulting to feminist eyes — seeing women only as sex objects. But curator Sarah Eckhardt says in the pre-feminist ’60s (those Playboy and pinup days) women were objectified that way. And if these paintings shock us today, that’s part of a long artistic tradition.

“If there’s something to resist in Wesselmann, it’s something that could be resisted in almost any of the nudes in art history,” Eckhardt says.

In fine art, the female body is a nude. In not-so-fine art, she’s naked.

Naked Or Nude? Wesselmann’s Models Are A Little Bit Of Both (National Public Radio)