Lichtenstein’s ‘I Can See The Whole Room! … And There’s Nobody In It!’ Fetches $43M

Roy Lichtenstein’s, “I Can See the Whole Room … and There’s Nobody in It!” set a new auction record of $43,202,500—a new world record for the artists—at an auction at Christie’s on Nov. 8, 2011.

NEW YORK – Roy Lichtenstein’s, “I Can See the Whole Room … and There’s Nobody in It!” set a new auction record of $43,202,500—a new world record for the artists—at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Nov. 8. The piece was the top lot in the sale, which achieved $247,597,000.

The sale, which also included the first part of the Peter Norton Collection, demonstrated the continuing appeal of this category among collectors worldwide, Christie’s officials said. Thirty-three works sold for more than the $1 million mark and 16 new world auction records were established for artists including Lichtenstein, Paul McCarthy, Charles Ray, Louise Bourgeois, among others.

Lichtenstein’s “I Can See the Whole Room…,” painted in 1961, is one of the earliest and most important of Lichtenstein’s Pop Art pictures. The piece was formerly in the collection of the pioneering collectors Emily and Burton Tremaine. The previous record for a Lichtenstein work was for “Ohhh … Alright…” (1964), which sold at Christie’s New York in November 2010 for $42.6 million.

“This is an extremely strong sale result, with great depth of bidding across multiple genres and periods, from the great giants of Pop Art to the strongest artists of the 1990s and the 2000s,” said Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s. “The world’s top ten collectors were present in the saleroom tonight, and a global community of collectors was bidding aggressively on works by the pre-eminent artists in this category—from Lichtenstein to Bourgeois, Ligon to McCarthy, Gursky to Ray. We are delighted to report more than a dozen new records for many well-deserving artists, and a new top price for any photograph sold at auction.”

Paul McCarthy’s “Tomato Head (Green),” a life-size re-interpretation of a child’s toy, with interchangeable body parts, sold for $4,562,500 after a bidding battle involving multiple collectors.

The sale got off to a strong start with Part I of the Collection of Peter Norton, the Los Angeles collector and software entrepreneur. Eager bidders snapped up each one of the 26 lots offered, driving prices to new auction records for nine artists. The star lot of the Collection was Paul McCarthy’s “Tomato Head (Green),” a life-size re-interpretation of a child’s toy, with interchangeable body parts. After a bidding battle involving multiple clients in the room and on the phone, the work sold for $4,562,500, setting a new auction record for the artist.

Further highlights from the Peter Norton Collection included Robert Gober’s “Prison Window,” an installation work, which sold for $3,386,500, and Charles Ray’s Table, a multimedia sculpture, which fetched $3,106,500—a new world auction record for the artist. The collection also featured the provocateur Maurizio Cattelan, whose “Untitled,” a miniature replica of a commercial elevator, achieved $1,022,500.

In the main portion of the Evening Sale, strong prices were achieved for Mark Rothko’s “White Cloud,” which sold for $18,562,500, and two works by Andy Warhol: “Silver Liz,” a luminous portrait of Elizabeth Taylor, which sold for $16,322,500, and “Four Campbell’s Soup Cans,” painted in 1962, which realized $9,826,500.

Among the themes and trends that emerged during the sale was the strong demand for works by top women artists, led by Louise Bourgeois, Sophie Calle, Barbara Kruger, Vija Clemins, Kara Walker and Mona Hatoum. Louise Bourgeois’s 21-foot wide bronze, Spider, soared beyond its pre-sale estimate of $4-6 million to achieve a new world auction record for the artist at $10,722,500.

In addition to the new world auction records for Lichtenstein and Bourgeois, new records were established for the following artists, including:

Barbara Kruger – $902,500 for “Untitled (When I hear the word culture I take out my checkbook),” 1985
Paul McCarthy – $4,562,500 for “Tomato Head (Green),” 1994
Glenn Ligon – $1,178,500 for “Untitled (Stranger in the Village #17),” 2000
Mona Hatoum – $470,500 for “Silence” executed in 1994.
Sophie Calle – $218,500 for “The Sleepers (Les dormeurs),” executed in 1979
Charles Ray – $3,106,500 for “Table,” plexiglas and steel, executed in 1990
Yinka Shonibare MBE – $194,500 for “Hound,” executed in 2000
Christian Marclay – $266,500 for “Guitar Neck,” executed in 1992
Fred Tomaselli – $1,650,500 for “Untitled (Expulsion),” executed in 2000
Vija Celmins – $902,500 for “Sea Drawing with Whale,” circa 1969
Andreas Gursky – $4,338,500 for “Rhein II,” executed in 1999 (world auction record for any photograph sold at auction)

Additional records were established for a specific medium, including:

Alexander Calder – $4,786,500 for “Sumac,” executed in 1961 (world auction record for a mobile by the artist);
Jean Dubuffet – $1,202,500 for “Canotin” mâche oeil, executed in 1967 (world auction record for a sculpture by the artist);
Wayne Thibaud – $1,650,500 for “Sixteen Pies,” executed in 1965 (world auction record for a work on paper by the artist).

For more information about the Post-War and Contemporary Art sales, visit the Christie’s website.


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    ~ Artist William Overgard’s Original Art ~

    Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein
    David Barsalou MFA

    Published: November 17, 2011

    Connecting the Dots Between the Record $43 Million Lichtenstein and the $431 Comic Strip It Was Copied From
    By Judd Tully

    It is widely known that the late, great Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein sourced much of his imagery from comic books and newspaper comic sections of yore, tweaking the scale to create the boldly painted compositions that made him world famous. But rarely do the collectors who pay millions for his paintings spare a thought for the Ben-Day artists who inspired his work.
    This was likely the case last week at Christie’s when Lichtenstein’s classic bubble-captioned painting “I Can See The Whole Room!… And There’s Nobody In It!” sold for an artist-record $43,202,500 to New York private dealer Guy Bennett. The cover lot last sold at auction at the same house, also as the cover lot, in November 1988 for a then-dazzling $2,090,000 (est. $800,000-1.2 million), part of the fabled Tremaine Collection. The Connecticut-based Burton and Emily Tremaine, for their part, had acquired the work from the Leo Castelli Gallery in November 1961 — the year it was painted — for a discounted price of $450, according to gallery records provided by Barbara Castelli, the late dealer’s widow who continues to run the gallery.
    Christie’s academically styled catalogue entry included a reproduction of the source image for the painting, culled from an August 6, 1961, panel of Saunders & Overgard’s syndicated comic “Steve Roper.” Apart from the word “Trooper!”, which began the bubble caption in the original, the text and image are virtually identical. Of course, the newspaper strip was black and white, and Lichtenstein added a yellow background to further dramatize the blown-up, sharply chiseled male visage staring through the peephole.
    But there’s more to the story than a polite footnote about the Steve Roper source material.
    In 1963 the painting was exhibited in the Guggenheim’s landmark exhibition “Six Painters and the Object.” Lichtenstein, then 39, had just been featured in a splashy Time magazine piece about the new Pop art craze, which included a comment about his use of real comic strips as models: “there is enough change so that he can claim to impose his own order on them.” A published letter to the editor by William Overgard, the then-36-year-old cartoonist and creator of the original drawing, followed.
    “Sir: As a cartoonist, I was interested in Roy Lichtenstein’s comments on comic strips in your article on pop art,” went the letter. “Though he may not, as he says, copy them exactly, Lichtenstein in his painting currently being shown at the Guggenheim comes pretty close to the last panel of my Steve Roper Sunday page of August 6, 1961. Very flattering… I think?”
    Overgard, the son of a silent movie star and a published author and screenwriter in the science fiction and horror film realm, died in 1990 at his 17-acre farm in Stony Point, New York. You might say Overgard had his Warholian 15 minutes of fame, but there’s also more to his legacy than that.
    The cartoon artist was tracked and rediscovered in part by David Barsalou, the creator of the Web site Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein, a three-decade endeavor to track down the original cartoons that the Pop art icon supped on.
    “A lot of these major collectors, they want a Lichteinstein, which is fine,” Barsalou said in a phone interview, “but the whole premise of Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein over the years is just to bring recognition to the original comic art that Lichtenstein copied.”
    “If these collectors understood the intrinsic value of original comic art they’d be grabbing all of that stuff because its at bargain prices right now,” continued Barsalou, who studied Pop art as a student in the late ‘70s at the Hartford Art School. “Sooner or later the art world is going to catch up to it.”
    Barsalou has his own auction story to tell, in fact, tying the frayed thread between Overgard and Lichtenstein. Last August, the cartoon aficionado found the original Overgard panel on eBay and outdueled four other remote bidders to snag the prize for $431. Overgard had donated his 3,000-plus cartoon archive to the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University, but that panel is not part of that protected trove.
    “To me,” said Barsalou, “it was the steal of the century.”

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