Works by the revered Los Angeles artist
don’t typically trade in the same eight-figure stratosphere as contemporary art giants like Basquiat and
. In fact, only one Ruscha has ever sold for more than $10 million: The text painting Smash
(1963) set the artist’s auction record in 2014 when it sold at Christie’s for $30.4 million. “Usually when you have these record prices, you see other works come out of the woodwork,” said Ana Maria Celis, the head of evening sale, post-war, and contemporary art at Christie’s, “but we didn’t really get another great early 1960s Ruscha, and we’ve been so hungry for one.”
Now, the auction house is angling to smash Ruscha’s record again with Hurting the Word Radio #2 (1964), which has a pre-sale estimate of $30 million to $40 million. The influential L.A. collectors Joan and Jack Quinn acquired the work directly from Ruscha in the early 1970s, and it has been in their collection ever since. But for Celis, the text painting’s appeal is much broader than its West Coast roots.
“The word is so international, it translates across languages—it’s the same in English, Spanish, French, and so on,” she said. “There’s a play on nostalgia with the word.” Accordingly, Christie’s has given the work its own room at its Rockefeller Center showroom, with benches where would-be buyers can sit and listen to old-timey tunes piped in over speakers.