After last week’s welter ofbreathless reportagesurroundingBanksy’s surprisepantsing of the art market at Sotheby’s London, I had made it a pre-New Year’s resolution never to mention the painting-shredding stunt again. Until, that is, I got a call from my trusty inside source Deep Pockets, who summoned me to meet him at a bar directly from Heathrow, where I was returning from an artist’s talk I’d given the night before in Cologne. (My source never divulges over the phone.) The scoop? He told me the definitive Banksy story, in its entirety.
First of all, if the entire prank—with a crude device concealed within the artwork’s ridiculously oversize frame half-slicing-and-dicing the painting onstage as astounded auction specialists looked on—sounds like a giant PR stunt, know that the consigned artwork was inscribed “Thanks, Jo” (with a heart), and Banksy’s PR representative happens to be named Jo Brooks.
I’m told that someone from Banksy’s publicity team contacted Sotheby’s to sell the painting Girl With a Balloon, but that the consignment came with stipulations, more or less as follows: a. the painting had to be hung in the salesroom during the sale; b. it needed to be sold in the latter half of the proceedings; and, c. it wasn’t to be examined out of the frame. As it’s not the norm to hang a relatively inconsequentially valued painting in the room (the pre-sale estimate was £200,000 to £300,000) during an evening auction, the house replied no.
The consignor countered by offering to pay a seller’s fee of around 5 percent. (That this person wasn’t automatically charged to place the work in the auction indicates that this was not a new relationship, and I’m told this PR liaison acts as a regular, go-to conduit for Banksy to feed art into the auction stream). The response from Sotheby’s came back again in the negative, at which point the consignor raised the ante to around 10 percent, and Sotheby’s acceded—the deal was done. The auction house certainly suspected something was afoot, by the very nature of the dialogue leading up to the sale, but I can assure you that is all they knew.
Like it or not, what followed—a mild protest prank mocking the moneyed, who get to laugh back and make more—is now canonized, one for the books.
Speaking of books, if the auction house did know that there was something in the works and didn’t tell prospective buyers, I thumbed through Elizabeth II’s Fraud Act of 2006, Chapter 35, to confirm that such an act of hanky-panky might very well qualify for “fraud by failing to disclose information.” But because the buyer—a “female European collector” and“long-standing client,” according to Sotheby’s—agreed to purchase the newly “reborn” artwork, now renamed Love Is in the Bin, there are no victims, save the readers who must be exposed to incessant coverage of the whole charade (which was, yes, undeniably funny and flawlessly executed).
When asked about Deep Pockets’s narrative of the event, Sotheby’s denied everything, with a representative saying that “how the work was handled and presented in the sale/on the night never featured in our discussions regarding commission rates, and there were no stipulations re the frame connected to our consignment agreement.” As for how the frame’s internal weaponry slipped under the auction house’s radar, Sotheby’s said the following:
When we asked the artist’s studio about removing the work from its frame during the cataloguing process, we were expressly told not to. We were told that the frame (which was glued) was integral to the work; breaking it would damage the work, and negatively impact its artistic value. This is not unusual—consider Lucio Fontana’s lacquer frames, or George Condo’s frames that include labels on the back saying do not remove from frame. If you remove the frame you violate the artist’s wishes and destroy the artwork. Our catalogue entry for the work describes that the work as is an ‘artist’s frame’. The certificate we received from the artist’s studio stated that the frame was “integral to the piece.”
As for Jo Brooks, asked whether she had any involvement in the stunt, she replied the narrative was “factually inaccurate.”
In a realm as chockablock with legerdemain as the art world, what matters, at the end of the day, is the the audience enjoyed the show. With his star turn at Sotheby’s, Banksy gave us all a command performance.
Sotheby’s is stepping out of its comfort zone by staging its first ever erotic art sale in London later this month.
The auction encompasses a variety of pieces surrounding the themes of love and sex, which span the entirety of art history from antiques to contemporary artworks. Additionally, the venerable auction house tapped Rowan Pelling, editor of the erotic periodical Erotic Review as guest editor for the sale catalogue.
A total of 107 risqué artworks will go under the hammer, including racy sketches, paintings, sculpture, and design pieces, which will be on view at Sotheby’s London headquarters February 11–15, ahead of the February 16 sale.
Highlights include a French 19th-century carved mahogany bed, featuring a two-tailed figure of a topless mermaid, which has been estimated at £500,000–800,000 ($624,250–$998,800)—the most expensive lot at the sale.
French, second half 19th century, An exceptional carved mahogany bed. Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Demonstrating the broad range and eclectic nature of the sale, the item with the lowest estimate, a phallic Shiva Vase, has carries a pre-sale estimate of just £200–300 ($250–375).
“This sale creates a stage on which we are able to bring together a fascinating array of artworks and objects across many disciplines,” sale head Constantine Frangos told the Daily Mail. The auction is “charting a history whilst also presenting stunning works by artists as eclectic as Picasso, Man Ray, Ettore Sottsass, and Marc Quinn.”
Quinn’s Maquette For Siren (2008) a gold statue of Kate Moss in a sensual yoga pose is estimated at £70,000–90,000 ($87,395–112,365). The British sculptor told Sotheby’s that the piece “represents everything that lures people to wreck themselves on the rocks: money, perfection, unattainable images—all these things.”
Mel Ramos Tomato Catsup, Tobacco Red; Lola Cola; and A.C. Annie. Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Also included in the sale are series of four pin-up style Mel Ramos prints, estimated at £5,000–7,000 ($6,243–8,740).
“Art has always existed to tell a human story, and sex has always been part of that story—whether it is there to compel, to shock or to seduce,” Frangos concluded. “Indeed, eroticism in art has appeared in whatever for art has taken, an our exhibition will take the viewer on a journey through the centuries.”
Pop artist Mel Ramos, whose art was known for its striking juxtaposition of naked women with larger-than-life commercial products, has died at age 83. According to his daughter and studio manager, Rochelle Leininger, the cause of death was heart failure.
While he never achieved the same level of fame as his fellow Pop art pioneers, Ramos was an important part of the first generation of American Pop artists. He was one of 12 artists, along with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 1963 Pop art show that showcased the burgeoning new movement, with Ramos’s paintings appropriating comic book imagery of female superheroes.
“That was the beginnings of Pop art,” Louis K. Meisel told artnet News. Meisel, who owns the eponymous Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York, has been Ramos’s dealer since 1971. Ramos originally showed with Leo Castelli, but the gallery wasn’t interested when the artist started focusing on more overtly sexual female nudes, satirizing the traditional commercial pin-up girl.
“I guess that was pretty aggressive back in 1965,” said Meisel, who was introduced to Ramos’s work by Castelli’s former associate director, Ivan Karp. “He called me and said ‘I have a really great artist for you,’ but he didn’t tell me who. Mel Ramos showed up at the gallery in this big fur coat with this big afro haircut and he showed me his work. I took him in immediately and I’ve been representing him ever since.”
Mel Ramos, 100 Grand (2012). Courtesy of Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York.
Ramos was “a remarkable human being, artist and teacher,” gallerist Martin Muller told the San Francisco Chronicle. Muller is founder and president of Modernism gallery in San Francisco, which has represented the artist on the West Coast for 38 years. “Riding various political and social trends in the art world over the past decades, he remained focused on the act of painting, with passion, awareness and discipline,” Muller said.
The artist was born in Sacramento on July 24, 1935, and died at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center on Sunday, October 14. He studied art under fellow Pop artist Wayne Thiebaud at Sacramento Junior College before earning a bachelor’s degree at Sacramento State College in 1957 and a master’s at the school the following year.
Ramos worked as an art professor at California State University, East Bay, from 1966 to 1997, and was still an emeritus professor there following his retirement, splitting his time between Spain and Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. Ramos is survived by his daughter Rochelle, his wife, Leta, and his son, Skot.
Mel Ramos, Lucky Lulu Blonde (1965). Courtesy of Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York.
If there was one thing that kept Ramos from achieving the levels of success enjoyed by his fellow Pop artists, it may have been his lack of production. (According to the artnet Price Database, Ramos’s £1.07 million [$1.69 million] auction record was set at Sotheby’s London in 2012.)
“In a lot of ways, Mel was equal to [Tom] Wesselmann and Lichenstein and, of course, Andy Warhol. The problem is, Andy Warhol left 36,000 works. Wesselmann is close to 8,000 or 10,000. Mel Ramos hand-painted everything tediously,” Meisel explained, noting that Ramos’s full-time job teaching could sometimes leave little time for making new work. “In his most famous year, 1965, he did 18 or 20 works. There are not 1,000 Ramoses in the world, so he hasn’t been as widely collected.”
Ramos’s sexualized imagery also led to criticism that the artist was demeaning women. “In the 1960s and ’70s, feminism came along and there was this problem with nudity,” Meisel acknowledged.
“I got a lot of flak from feminists at one time. Then I was in Europe at a show of 30 nudes at the Louvre. Here were magnificent nudes by Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto, and I felt validated,” Ramos told the Sacramento Bee in 2012. “I’m no longer defensive about my work.”
Mel Ramos, Senorita Rio – The Queen of Spies (1963). Courtesy of Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York.
In 2011, Ramos was the subject of a major survey at the Albertina in Vienna. His first hometown retrospective, “Mel Ramos: 50 Years of Superheroes, Nudes, and Other Pop Delights,” followed at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum in 2012.
His work can be found in the permanent collections of such prestigious institutions as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art. Beyond NYC, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, also hold his works.
The exhibition “Mel Ramos – Superheroes of 1963,” featuring six of the 18 paintings from his first major series of Pop works, of female superheroes, opened at Louis K. Meisel Gallery on October 11 and is on view through November 10.