Tom Wesselmann (born 1931)



In 2002, with the « Great American Nude #44 », Tom Wesselman was one of the 5 Pop’Art artists who set a new record. But, such record apart, 80% of Wesselmann’s works go for less than USD 15,000

Tom Wesselmann began his art training in his home town of Cincinnati, before moving on to the Cooper Union in New York at the age of 25. His earliest work was influenced by abstract expressionism but he dropped abstraction in 1960. A year after his debut solo show at the Tanager Gallery, his work was hanging in MoMA’s « The Figure » exhibition in New York. In 1963 he contributed to « Pop Goes the East » at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. His first pop pieces were colleges blending images from everyday life, cigarettes, coffee, bottles etc. His style gelled quickly and his reputation was made with his “Great American Nudes” and “Still Life” series. His later style was characterised by a colourful palette, juxtaposing close-up details of women’s bodies with everyday objects.

Artworks at auctions

One of his large-format nudes from 1963 — Great American Nude #44, depicting a female figure alongside a radiator, door, coat and other objects — sold for USD 850,000 at Christie’s New York on 14 May 2002 making him the seventh-highest selling pop artist of 2002. But, such records apart, 80% of Tom WESSELMANN’s works go for less than USD 15,000. The accessible prices partly reflect his ample presence on the market. No less that 100 works come onto the auction stands every year. Over 40% are prints, and 30% of his lithographs go for less than USD 1,500. Small Wesselmann collages still regularly turn up for less than EUR 5,000. On 9 July 2003 a “Smoking Cigarette” went for EUR 1,750 at Cornette de Saint-Cyr’s Paris auction house. In New York, a study for a “Great American Nude” went for just USD 4,800.

The market places

While the artist’s best pieces tend to be offered in New York, where Wesselmann makes three-quarters of his turnover, his is a genuinely international market. Pieces show up regularly in France, the UK, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

Buy or sell

Analysing his price level, Wesselmann seems to have been rather too much the safe investment for too long. While other pop art stars saw their prices explode in the 1990s Wesselmann’s stagnated. But since 2001 he has done better, twice setting new records at auction. Once, in November 2001 his “Still life #28”, featured on the cover page of Christie’s catalogue, took USD 720,000. This was followed by the USD 850,000 sale of “Great American Nude #44” on 14 May 2002. These landmark sales caused the inevitable stir on the market, collectors started bidding hard for works by the artist and speculative interest multiplied. As a result, across all formats, Wesselmann’s index rose by 133% between January 2002 and June 2003. The biggest gains were made by the paintings. The index for paintings alone has nearly quadrupled since 1997. Some have been bought and resold at a handsome profit in quick order. For instance, a “Nude and Blue Star” bought for EUR 10,671 at Cornette de Saint-Cyr in June 2000 sold for twice the price two years later at Poulain-Le-Fur. Enthusiasm for the artist’s unique pieces has not yet fed through to the prints and multiples where prices are now falling after a 12% rally between 2000 and 2002.

    Tom WESSELMANNArtprice Indexall media categories, base January 1997 = 100, currency: EUR   Tom WESSELMANN Lots sold at auctions   Tom WESSELMANN Auction sales turnover 1999-2002 / weight by country © Artprice