Ed Ruscha Value: Top Prices Paid at Auction

Wall Rocket by Ed RuschaWall Rocket © Ed Ruscha 2013
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Ed Ruscha's Pop Art merges elements of both elite and popular culture, utilising striking text, slogans, and depictions of American landscapes to create visually striking artworks. These pieces have been auctioned 3,831 times, predominantly in the Print-Multiple category. Positioned 11th in the global top 100 rankings of artists by auction sales 2023 turnover, the majority of the artist's works are sold in the United States.

This article explores Ruscha's pivotal position in the art market by taking a look at his 10 highest auction prices to date.

£40.9M for Hurting The Word Radio No.2 (1964)


Painting by Ed Ruscha of the word 'radio' in bold yellow lettering against a blue background. The letters 'r' and 'o' are distorted as they are clamped.Image © Christie's / Hurting The Word Radio 2 © Ed Ruscha 1964

In November of 2019, Hurting The Word Radio No. 2 (1964) became the most expensive work of art by ex-commercial artist and central figure of the American Pop Art movement, Ed Ruscha (pronounced roo-shay). 

It realised an astonishing US$52,485,000 at Christie’s New York. An early example of Ruscha’s text-based paintings, the record-breaking piece sets the word ‘RADIO’ against a bright blue background. Despite its concern with bold, simple text, the piece’s rendering of this word is far from simple. Distorting (‘hurting’) it with a pair of vices, Ruscha constricts and twists the text, providing his own unique take on the visually arresting iconographies of American consumer capitalism.

£27.7M for Securing The Last Letter (Boss) (1964)


Painting by Ed Ruscha depicting the word 'BOSS' in capitalised, simplistic, bold orange lettering against a dark blue background. There is a clamp on the final letter 's', distorting the shape of the letter.Image © Christie's / Securing The Last Letter (Boss) © Ed Ruscha 1964

In November 2023, in Sotheby’s New York, Ruscha’s 1964 painting Securing The Last Letter (Boss), became the second highest price fetched by the artist. The artwork sold for a remarkable $39,400,500 (£32,053,095). With a hammer price of $34million (£27,659,680), the piece exceeded its estimated value of $35-40 million.

In Securing The Last Letter (Boss), Ruscha juxtaposes the word ‘BOSS’ in vivid orange against a deep navy background, dramatically altering its final letter with a C-clamp. This artwork exemplifies Ruscha's exploration of language's physicality, blending Pop Art and conceptualism with a unique graphic intensity. Part of a crucial series during Ruscha's early career, this painting is one of the rare instances where he incorporates the clamp motif, signifying its importance within his body of work and underscoring its esteemed provenance and collection history.

£19.2M for Smash (1963)


Painting by Ed Ruscha, depicting the word 'smash' in yellow lettering against a navy blue background.Image © Christie's / Smash © Ed Ruscha 1963

In November 2014, a 1963 work by commercial artist and foremost member of the US Pop Art movement, Ed Ruscha, broke a record. Entitled Smash, Ruscha's artwork realised US$30,405,000 at Christie’s auction house in New York. An early example of the artist’s text paintings, it is emblazoned with the word ‘SMASH’, and references the bold, typographic basis of American commercial advertising of the 1950s and 60s. In doing so, it is imbued with Ruscha’s own origins as a member of the art department at a major Los Angeles advertising agency.

£18.2M for Annie (1962)

(US$22,975,000 )

Painting of the word 'Annie' by Ed Ruscha in red lettering with a black outline. The background is yellow in the top half and blue in the bottom half.Image © Christie's / Annie © Ed Ruscha 1962

Annie is one of American Pop Artist Ed Ruscha’s most iconic works. On the 10th July 2020 it realised an enormous US$22,975,000 at auction at Christie’s New York, making it Ruscha’s forth most expensive work to date. Annie showcases the painterly origins of another of Ruscha’s later works, Annie, Poured From Maple Syrup (1966), a mixed-media piece that once graced the walls of the Norton Simon museum in California. An early work – and turning point – in Ruscha’s œuvre, Annie recreates the logo of American comic strip, Annie (1962). Affording the simple text a monumental stature, the work measures nearly six feet in height.

£17.8M for Burning Gas Station (1966-69)


Painting by Ed Ruscha depicting a gas station on fire. The station, depicted in white, red and blue is set against a warm green sky. Dark grey smoke is billowing from the station.Image © Christie's / Burning Gas Station © Ed Ruscha 1966-69

In May 2023, Ruscha’s iconic Burning Gas Station was sold for $22,260,000 (£17,791,973) at Christie’s New York. With a hammer price of $19million (£ 15,186,320), the piece became the fifth highest price fetched by a Ruscha artwork.

Created between 1966-69, Burning Gas Station is part of a pivotal series in the artist’s oeuvre, depicting gas stations as central motifs. This piece, part of a limited set of Standard Stations, showcases an iconic station engulfed in flames, symbolising a rebellion against conventional art standards. Characterised by its dramatic composition and Ruscha's signature ombre effect in the night sky, the painting merges postwar American motifs with a surrealist vision of destruction and transformation. Not exhibited publicly since 1976, it stands as a testament to Ruscha's innovative approach to blending commercial art techniques with fine art, imbuing the everyday with profound conceptual depth.

£15.1M for Cold Beer Beautiful Girls (1993)


Acrylic painting by Ed Ruscha, depicting the centred words 'cold beer beautiful girls' in bold, capitalised white lettering against a background of a cloudy sky.Cold Beer Beautiful Girls © Ed Ruscha 1993

On 19 May 2022, Ed Ruscha's 1993 Cold Beer Beautiful Girls sold for £15,058,814 during the Contemporary Evening Auction in Sotheby's, New York, exceeding its lowest presale estimate of £12 million.

This work stands as a pivotal representation of Ruscha's celebrated artistic journey, showcasing his unique blend of conceptual depth and stylistic hallmark, and it transforms the enticing phrase into a nuanced critique of American ideals and consumer culture. Cold Beer Beautiful Girls not only captures the essence of Ruscha’s Californian roots but also his ability to interweave desire with the fabric of American pop culture, marking it as a defining piece in his illustrious oeuvre.

£15.0M for Ripe (1967)


Painting by Ed Ruscha of the word 'ripe' in red lettering against a yellow-green background. The letterings is uneven and resembles pomegranate juice.Image © Christie's / Ripe © Ed Ruscha 1967

In November 2021, an iconic work by king of bold text Ed Ruscha, entitled Ripe (1967), sold for an outstanding US$20,000,000 at Christie’s auction house in New York. An oil on canvas piece, its focus is a single word: ‘ripe’. An example of Ruscha’s so-called ‘liquid paintings’, the text resembles flowing pomegranate juice. Ripe stands as one of Ruscha's initial ventures in rendering three-dimensionality on canvas, a method that would evolve into his series of liquid paintings.

£10.6M for Mint (Green) (1968)


Painting by Ed Ruscha depicting the word 'mint' in a murky green colour against a mustard yellow background. The lettering is fluid and uneven, resembling liquid.Image © Sotheby's / Mint (Green) © Ed Ruscha 1968

In November 2023 at Sotheby’s New York, Ruscha’s 1968 painting Mint (Green) fetched £10,554,202 ($12,973,500), with a hammer price of $11million. The painting shines with a vibrant yellow background, embodying the blend of permanence and fleeting moments through its ‘liquid’ word depiction.

This piece is part of Ruscha's rare series of twelve ‘liquid’ word paintings made between 1966-69, emphasising the fluidity and malleability of language, a recurring theme in the artist’s work. Mint (Green) has been recognised as a key example of Ruscha's innovative approach to art, with its exhibition history and esteemed ownership adding to its significance in the art world.

£6.4M for I Tried To Forget To Remember (1986)

(US$8,237,000 )

Painting by Ed Ruscha depicting the words 'I tired to forget to remember' in a bold, capitalised, red font against a black backdrop with white specks which resemble lights.Image © Christie's / I Tried To Forget To Remember © Ed Ruscha 1986

Exceeding its pre-sale estimate by over US$1 million, American Pop artist Ruscha’s I Tried To Forget To Remember realised US$8,237,000 at Sotheby’s New York in May of 2019. A riff on the 1955 Elvis Presley song, I Forgot To Remember To Forget, the piece is part of Ruscha’s City Lights series, and is a prominent example of his signature text-based approach.

In the image, three lines of text are layered over an impressionistic depiction of city lights. Arranged in such a way as to suggest their position beneath the viewer's eyeline on a dark night, the piece is imbued with cinematic qualitites. Likely born of the artist’s time spent as a commercial artist in Los Angeles, where he rubbed shoulders with the graphic iconographies of Tinseltown, the piece possesses an appeal product of 1950s billboards and all things Hollywood.

£5.0M for Brave Man's Porch (1996)

(US$6,550,400 )

Painting. byEd Ruscha, depicting the words 'brave men run in my family' in stark white lettering, against a blurry black silhouette of a pillar against a grey-blue background.Image © Sotheby's / Brave Man's Porch © Ed Ruscha 1996

In November 2017, US Pop Artist Ed Ruscha’s 1996 painting Brave Man’s Porch realised a stunning US$6,550,400 at auction in Sotheby's New York.

Depicting the hazy silhouette of a Grecian portico much like that of the Acropolis in Athens, the painting combines typography and almost photographic likeness. Adorning the piece’s surface are 6 words, arranged in a configuration reminiscent of a Snellen Chart. Produced in 1996, Brave Man’s Porch makes use of the sfumato technique, pioneered by Renaissance painters such as Leonardo Da Vinci.

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