This year, the art world celebrated 100 years of Roy Lichtenstein. The same day as the Pop-pioneer’s birthday, the Whitney Museum in New York announced a major retrospective on the artist, which will debut in 2026. This is just one of many retrospectives on the pioneers of American Pop that have been popping up around the globe; Keith Haring at the Broad in Los Angeles, Ed Ruscha at the MoMA in New York, and the upcoming Tom Wesselmann retrospective at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, to name just a few. This wave of Pop Art exhibitions is not limited to museums. The commercial gallery Acquavella currently has a Pop group show on view, while Gagosian dedicated two of its Manhattan galleries to the work of Roy Lichtenstein this autumn. Even the auction houses have been leaning into this excitement, with Sotheby’s organising a summer selling exhibition titled ‘All About Pop!’ Needless to say, Pop Art is having something of a renaissance, and it begs the question of how this buzz is going to play out in the market.
Pop Art reentered headlines last May with the record-breaking sale of Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) for $195 million – the most expensive 20th century work of art to ever sell at auction. While a Warhol ‘Marilyn’ remains the most sought after work of the Warhol market, the diversity of his subject matter means that different series have resonated differently with successive generations of collectors, who might prefer the 1960s icons such as Elvis, the death-and-disaster paintings, or more political works depicting Mao, drag queens, or his “hammer and sickle” series. His photographs and works from the 1980s possibly have the most room to grow – a 1982 silkscreen “piss portrait” of Jean-Michel Basquiat fetched his second-highest price at auction in 2021, indicating that there could be a newfound appreciation for the later works on the horizon.
When it comes to Roy Lichtenstein, the market for work by him peaked in 2015, when Nurse (1964) fetched $95.4 million. Privately, works by the artist have sold for considerably more since. Five years ago, Agnes Gund sold Masterpiece (1962), one of Lichtenstein’s greatest masterpieces, for a whopping $165 million to Steve Cohen. Lichtenstein’s most prized works date from 1962 to 1964—specifically, the artist’s depictions of women in an aesthetic derived from advertising and comic books, though they very rarely come to market, with most already in museum collections. It will be interesting to see if a new auction record for the artist could be set in the leadup to the Whitney retrospective, if a strong enough work comes to market.
Another interesting aspect of this Pop renaissance is a new focus on the undervalued and lesser-known Pop pioneers. Elaine Sturtevant is one key example of this. While widely respected and mentored by the king of Pop Art himself, Andy Warhol, Sturtevant has yet to gather wider acclaim for her important contributions to the Pop movement. It also surfaces the question of a distinct lack of critical exploration and market momentum surrounding the female artists in Pop Art – Sturtevant’s male counterparts have taken most of the acclaim for their contributions to the movement. That being said, there is a lot of potential for growth when it comes to Sturtevant’s market, as evidenced by the May 2023 auction of her Study for Warhol Marilyn (1973) which blew past estimates.