Editor’s note: With the arrival of the holidays, The Hot Bid shifts its focus to world auction records.
What you see: Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, a 1996 limited edition painted and patinated bronze sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein. Phillips New York sold it in May 2017 for $10.3 million, an auction record for a sculpture by the artist.
Who was Roy Lichtenstein? He was an American pop artist who rose to prominence on the strength of his brightly colored comic book-style works. While Lichtenstein sculpted several dozen pieces during his five-decade career, he is probably best known for his paintings. In January 2017, collector Agnes Gund consigned his 1962 oil on canvas, Masterpiece, to raise money for her criminal justice reform efforts; the painting made headlines when it sold for $165 million. Lichtenstein died in 1997, at the age of 73.
Before I saw this piece, I hadn’t thought of Lichtenstein as a sculptor. How prolific was he? “Sculpture was a big part of his practice from the very beginning. He started in the early to mid-1960s,” says Scott Nussbaum, Phillips’s head of 20th century and contemporary art in New York. “If you go to the website of his foundation, you can see year by year what his production was, in all media, shapes, and sizes.”
Why did Lichtenstein make Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight? “He painted it first–it was an element within a painting that he did in 1995, called Nude with Bust,” he says. “He created it after the original painting was done.”
The sculpture focuses on a female subject. Do Lichtenstein works that feature women do better at auction? “Yes, but I think that’s true of every artist,” he says. “The female form is the most commercial form. If it’s what most people would consider a sensual form, it’ll sell better. That’s true across the board.”
Lichtenstein himself actually owned this piece. How did that that fact enhance its value? “I think it added value in the sense that the provenance on this is excellent, coming directly from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, and the fact that he held it and did not sell it adds to its allure,” he says. “People want to know that art was owned by great collectors, or institutions. The excellent provenance added to its reception in the market.”
What is Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight like in person? “It has an incredible presence to it,” he says. “You really feel you are near a significant work of art. The more time you spend with it, the more you appreciate it. It’s not just a depiction of a beautiful woman, it’s a beautiful moment–two moments, one in sunlight and one in moonlight. Our audience fell in love with it, and it drew people into the gallery just to see it.”
Why did the sculpture do so well? “It was a fantastic result that shattered the auction record for a sculpture by Lichtenstein,” he says. “It’s a very rare object. Though it’s an edition, it’s very closely held. All are in good homes, and it’s unclear if another example will appear on the market anytime soon.”
How long do you think the record will stand? “It’s impossible to say. With this market, it’s difficult to predict anything,” he says. “I think this sculpture is one of his best, if not the best. I think only if another from the series [comes up], or one of a handful of really monumental sculptures that he produced in the 1960s could exceed that price. I think it will stand for a while.”
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.
Also, if you scroll down on the webpage for the Phillips lot notes on Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, you can see a video that shows both sides of the sculpture.