Now Who’s the Heavyweight, Bluto?

Photo: Sotheby's

Photo: Sotheby’s

Today, let’s call him Popeye the $28.2 Million Man. That was the  sale price against the estimate of about $25 million for Jeff Koons’s stainless steel sculpture, “Popeye.”  Beautifully finished in colorful, jewel-like glazes, the statue was part of a $364.4 million sale of contemporary art at Sotheby’s in New York on May 14.

Casino magnate Steve Wynn bought the 6.5-foot-tall work and will display it in front of his Las Vegas hotel.

JeffKoonsKoons first began referencing Popeye in his work in the early 2000s. Created between 2009 and 2011, Koons’s sculptural rendition of the world-famous Sailor Man weighs in at a cool 2,000 pounds. In a classic, heroic pose, the King Features flagship character stands over-life-sized,  flexing his muscle and holding an open can of his signature leafy green veggie, spinach.

The sculpture is one of an edition of three, from which no example has appeared at auction until now. This Popeye has never been exhibited publicly.Popeye” stands at the culmination of a long line of monumental sculptures and statues in which Jeff Koons has sought to re-frame the terms of high art for the masses.

In an auction preview video posted on, Alex Rotter, Co-Head of Sotheby’s Worldwide Contemporary Art Department, commented: “The history of Pop Art begins and ends with Popeye. From his first representations by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol in the 1960s, to the present three-dimensional crescendo by Jeff Koons a half century later, this ultimate American hero and self-made man has remained a true icon of both art history and popular culture.”

Created by Elzie Segar, Popeye made his first appearance in 1929 as a minor walk-on character in the “Thimble Theatre” newspaper comic strip distributed by King Features Syndicate. Readers loved him and Popeye eventually took over as star of the strip. The mighty mariner personified the American dream, becoming a cultural phenomenon at a time of worldwide hardship during the Great Depression. Today, after more than eight decades, the all-American cartoon hero remains universally famous across the globe.

Read more about the “Popeye” sale at Sotheby’s in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, New York Times and Vocativ.

5 thoughts on “Now Who’s the Heavyweight, Bluto?

  1. I posted this story on my Facebook page and got an avalanche of responses, the bulk of which agreed with me that , even though Koons paid King a licensing fee to do his Popeye paintings and statues (all of which look exactly like the original Popeye drawings, unaltered anatomically), he is essentially stealing intellectual property. I find that people who claim that copyright and ownership of work by creative people (from inventions to writing comics, etc.) usually don’t own anything themselves worth stealing. Creators need to be compensated for what they create. If I walk into a car dealership and drive off with a new Prius, claiming its ownership by the dealer is wrong, I’d be busted. Koons had the legal right to do what he did (because he paid King a fee), but numerous others (like Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein and his blown-up real comic book panels) simply “appropriate”. This all stems from a bogus “High Art/ Low Art” concept, which granted “fine” artists the right to “borrow” from comics without guilt. Time to retire that concept.

  2. Mr. Griffith;


    Jeff Koons’ beautifully executed stainless steel sculpture, “Popeye” will now be seen by millions of folks, especially the younger ones who likely haven’t a clue about Popeye – a long time hero of mine.

    Bless you Mr. Koons, for your VERY special work honoring a long-time hero of many, many of us!!!!!

    Last night I had spinach, not knowing I would be singing Popeye’s praises less than 24 hours later! I even had a salad with Olive Oyl dressing!

    Kudos again, Jeff!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Bill I could not agree more. Hubby and I were recently in a gallery in San Diego where they were selling expensive pop “art” that incorporated well-know cartoon characters in them (ie: added thick oil paint squiggles around Little Lulu).

    The gallery saleswoman explained that because the cartoon images were part of a new piece of art that copyright didn’t apply. Absolutely outrageous!

  4. If the owner of said images, King Features Syndicate of Popeye, wants to offer use of that image for a fee, that’s entirely their business. And as an artist, I like that we have such incredible freedom. And I for one think it’s a major thing to support. It may be the last tryely uninhibited free speech portal we have, next to journalism. But I’d argue, even more than they have. I think the original creator would be rather flattered. If Koons’s had made a million small copies for sales distribution, that’s a different story. Many pop artists have appropriated Mickey Mouse, in one-off pieces, but they’d be insanely sued by Disney if they plastered their work everywhere. “Fan Art” has earned a particular affection by originators and public alike. No one’s misunderstanding that Koons is the creator of Popeye. King Features Syndicate is reaping the reward of this Sotheby’s sale, I promise you. The publicity is gold, paid in full.

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