An example of Man Ray’s iconic 1938 London Underground poster has set a new record at auction.
The lot realised $149,000, making it the most valuable Underground poster ever sold. That’s almost triple the previous record of £50,400 ($71,550), set for another variant of this same poster in 2007.
The design uses the instantly recognisable Underground roundel logo against a rendering of Saturn. Below are the words “Keeps London Going”.
The London Underground began using contemporary artists in its campaigns under the leadership of publicity officer Frank Pick in 1908.
Pick was a visionary manager who would head the London Passenger Transport Board on its foundation in 1933. He had a keen interest in design and introduced several key elements of the organisation’s branding, including Edward Johnston’s sans-serif font and the iconic red and blue logo and map (both designed by Harry Beck).
Pick’s knowledge of and passion for contemporary art led to commissions from some of the more pioneering artists of the era, including Edward McKnight Kauffer and Paul Nash.
However the Man Ray poster is the ultimate prize for collectors as he is the best known artist to take on the commission. Man Ray created it using his signature rayograph technique, where three-dimensional shapes are placed on photographic paper and briefly exposed to light.
The meaning is open to interpretation. Perhaps Man Ray intended the Tube’s reliable, swift and punctual service to be mirrored in the eternally perfect orbit of Saturn’s rings. Or something.
Tadanori Yokoo’s extraordinary Having Reached a Climax at the Age of 29, I was Dead (1965) also proved immensely popular with buyers.
The work achieved $28,600 against its $20,000 valuation. Yokoo is a Japanese artist whose work bears a clear influence of the travels he made in India in the 1960s.
He was the founder of a gloriously deranged Japanese school of pop art that makes the likes of Andy Warhol and Peter Blake look intensely dull by comparison.