Mel Ramos (1935-2018)
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These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more THE COLLECTION OF RICHARD L. WEISMAN
Mel Ramos (1935-2018)

Hunt for the Best

Mel Ramos (1935-2018)
Hunt for the Best
signed, titled, inscribed and dated '"HUNT FOR THE BEST" 1966 BY Mel Ramos SACRAMENTO CALIF' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 39 ¾in. (121.9 x 101cm.)
Painted in 1966
David Stuart Galleries, Los Angeles.
Marcia and Frederick Weisman, Los Angeles.
Thence by descent to the late owner (acquired from the above in 1973).
E. Claridge, The Girls of Mel Ramos, Chicago 1975, p. 157 (incorrectly dated '1965'; illustrated, p. 102).
T. Levy (ed.), Mel Ramos: Heroines, Goddesses, Beauty Queens, Bielefeld 2002, p. 254 (incorrectly dated '1965'; illustrated in colour, p. 201).
P. Shea (ed.), Picasso to Pop: The Richard Weisman Collection, New York 2003, p. 20, no. 22 (illustrated in colour, pp. 20, 40 and 125).
D. Kuspit and L. K. Meisel, Mel Ramos Pop Art Fantasies: The Complete Paintings, New York 2004 (incorrectly dated '1965'; illustrated in colour, pp. 24 and 98)
T. Levy (ed.), Mel Ramos: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings 1953-2015, Bielefeld 2016, no. 65-21 (incorrectly dated '1965'; illustrated in colour, p. 195).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era, 1976-1977, p. 148, no. 195 (incorrectly dated '1965'; illustrated, p. 154). This exhibition later travelled to Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institution.
Houston, The Menil Collection, Pop Art: U.S./U.K. Connections 1956-1966, 2001, p. 208, no. 49 (incorrectly dated '1965'; illustrated in colour, p. 209).
London, National Portrait Gallery, Pop Art Portraits, 2007-2008, p. 181, no. 43 (incorrectly dated '1965'; illustrated in colour, p. 105). This exhibition later travelled to Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.
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Lot Essay

An icon of West Coast Pop art and a talisman in the story of two great collecting families, Hunt for the Best (1966) is a seminal nude by Mel Ramos. Previously owned by Richard Weisman’s parents, Frederick and Marcia – famously immortalised in David Hockney’s American Collectors (1968) – the work was commissioned by his father, and hung for many years in his home office in the Hollywood hills. ‘Opposite his desk: a nude Mel Ramos cutie embracing a Hunt’s catsup bottle’, noted Jo Ann Lewis in a 1987 profile of Frederick. ‘This is a man who takes art seriously, but not too seriously. He may, in fact, have more fun with it than any other contemporary collector around’ (J. A. Lewis, ‘In Search of a Collector’s Showcase’, Washington Post, 14 April 1987). Beyond the work’s humour, the Hunt’s label had special significance. Hunt Foods, where Frederick had been president and chief operating officer, was owned by Marcia’s brother Norton Simon. A renowned collector of the Old Masters, Simon had a role in inspiring the couple to build their own collection of contemporary art, which by the 1960s was among the most important of its kind in the country. Celebrating this family connection, Hunt for the Best – named for Hunt’s well-known advertising slogan – might also stand as an apt motto for the Weismans, who pursued the very finest artworks of their time.

Ramos, who was himself a lifelong California native, is famed for his surreal juxtapositions of nude women and oversized consumer objects. Hunt for the Best’s woman poses seductively behind a ketchup bottle almost as tall as she is; in playful bodily dialogue, its lip sits perfectly against her nipple. A blue circle hovers against a field of orange to form bright, flat backdrop. The woman’s glowingly contemporary hair and makeup, as well as her photorealistic depiction – achieved with fine brushwork and the aid of jeweller’s glasses – brings the language of erotica into fine art, troubling the distinction between a pin-up and an art-historical ‘nude’. As is typical, Ramos lavishes just as much care on her accompanying product: painted with careful nuances of light, shade and reflection, Hunt’s faceted glass bottle takes on a gleaming splendour.

Much like his Pop contemporary Andy Warhol – and his mentor Wayne Thiebaud, who taught him at Sacramento City College in the late 1950s – Ramos incorporated the mores of advertising into his work to smart satirical effect. Rather than objectifying women, his paintings parody the sexualised desire for consumer goods that flooded the magazines and billboards of postwar America. (Norton Simon had been a pioneer of such ads during World War II, filling full pages in Life and Vogue with colour photos of Hunt’s ketchup bottles that made the brand a household name). Ramos’s nudes are a provocative visualisation of the adage that ‘sex sells’, openly indulging in the carnal impulses that are inseparable from commerce’s language of longing, fantasy and gratification. Hunt for the Best’s background adds a further layer of critique: absent woman and bottle, it would look more than a little like a work by the Colour Field painter Kenneth Noland, whose flat circles were at the vanguard of 1960s post-painterly abstraction. Combining this idiom with his own Pop vision, Ramos wryly points up its parallels with the bright, crisp graphics of advertising – a realm from which such abstract art considered itself aloof. Hunt for the Best epitomises the complex beauty and burlesque wit of Ramos’s work, where a circle might equally be a Lucky Strike logo or a space for the sublime.

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