- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Pamela Anderson and Marilyn Monroe may be names that come to mind when one thinks of the art of Playboy, but how about Salvador Dali?

A Dali watercolor of a reclining nude that hung in Hugh Hefner’s bedroom is among 125 artworks being auctioned by the magazine known for baring all for nearly 60 years. The Dec. 8 auction at Christie’s is dubbed “The Year of the Rabbit.”

Founder and editor-in-chief Hefner said the magazine that has entertained, titillated and informed with its commissioned art has blurred the lines between fine and popular art.

“Playboy helped to change the very direction of commercial art _ breaking down the wall between fine art and commercial art,” the 84-year-old Hefner told The Associated Press in an interview at his Los Angeles mansion. “Before Playboy and a few other places, commercial art was essentially Norman Rockwell, very realistic. And we introduced into commercial illustration the whole notion of everything from abstract to semi-abstract to stuff that you found on a gallery wall.”

The sale includes 80 photographs, more than a dozen contemporary works and 24 cartoons.

Among them are a photograph of comedian Dan Aykroyd in a conehead costume with a bunny-suited Anderson, a photo of the magazine’s 1953 debut cover of Monroe, an early 1960s shot of sex kitten Brigitte Bardot and three Alberto Vargas pinup girl watercolor and pencil illustration boards. The auction’s top draw is expected to be an iconic, sexually charged oil of a scarlet-lipstick mouth by pop artist Tom Wesselmann. Portraits of Duke Ellington and Dennis Hopper and a Herb Ritts photo of Elle Macpherson are also for sale.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Aaron Baker, curator of the Playboy Art Collection for the last eight years. Chicago-based Playboy houses an archive of 5,000 contemporary artworks and more than 20 million photographs in a storage building in the city.

Since “a lot of these are work products,” said Cathy Elkies, Christie’s head of private and corporate collections, “there’s a link between the collection and the ethos of the publication itself.”

Nearly all the items in the sale have appeared in the publication, a cultural icon that helped liberate American sexual mores.

Given Hefner’s early background as an amateur cartoonist, Elkies said, his connection to art has always been strong.

Among the standout fine art pieces is Dali’s “Playmate,” a 1966 watercolor of a reclining nude that until recently hung over a mantel in Hefner’s bedroom at the Playboy Mansion. It’s estimated to bring $100,000 to $150,000. It was one of 11 works chosen for “The Playmate as Fine Art” pictorial for the magazine’s January 1967 Playmate review issue that asked artists to create Playmate-inspired art.

“I’m a fan of Dali’s and happy to be sharing it,” Hefner said, smiling. “It’s a reclining nude, so that made it easy to personally identify with it.”

The star of the auction, Wesselmann’s “Mouth No. 8,” depicts the artist’s iconic theme of a woman’s open, lipsticked mouth. The 1966 work is estimated to bring $2 million to $3 million.

“It’s a great example of his work from his best period,” Baker said.

Some fun items include a number of layout boards, marked up by Playboy’s art directors. Some even contain their penciled ratings of the pinups, for example, “88 out of 100,” Elkies said.

Story Continues →