Playboy has more than 5,000 works of commissioned art in the Playboy Art Collection, including original paintings, drawings, watercolors and sculptures. The vast majority of these artworks appeared in Playboy magazine. Unlike many corporate art collections, which are assembled for aesthetic reasons or as part of an investment strategy, Playboy’s art collection is the result of 58 years of magazine commissions. Hugh Hefner, a cartoonist himself, hired Chicago artist and designer Art Paul to be the magazine’s first art director. Paul, acting on Hefner’s wish to create a magazine that was modern and visually arresting, famously asked fine artists to make illustration and illustrators to make fine art. Playboy kept these incredible creations and they now hang in its various offices around the world.
Andy Warhol, the king of Pop Art and perhaps the greatest artist of the 20th century, was a beloved Playboy contributor. He began his long partnership with Playboy when Art Paul hired him to create a piece for the October 1961 issue of Show Business Illustrated, Hefner’s short-lived, glossy entertainment mag. This work, The Night the Roxy Opened, is classic pre-Pop Warhol, displaying the blotted ink lines of his early-advertising art. Paul was so pleased with Warhol’s creation that he went on to commission the artist multiple times over the course of nearly 25 years.
Perhaps among the more iconic of these later contributions are Double Torso and Rabbit Head Logo. Double Torso appeared in a landmark January 1967 pictorial titled “The Playmate as Fine Art” in which Art Paul asked eleven contemporary artists Salvador Dali and Tom Wesselmann among them to use the Playmate as their muse. The painting was one of only three ultra violet works Warhol made in the 1960s viewers could only see the painting by viewing it under black light. Rabbit Head Logo appeared on the cover of the magazine in January 1986 and has become one of the most widely known and valuable pieces in the Playboy Collection. To my knowledge, it is one of only four Rabbit Head works Warhol created in his lifetime. Playboy still owns Rabbit Head Logo, but has sold both Double Torso and The Night the Roxy Opened.
Aaron Baker is the Curator of the Playboy Collection. He manages the display, care and cataloging of more than 5,000 works across five locations, including the Playboy Mansion. Baker works with galleries, museums and publishers to bring greater awareness to Playboy’s history and to highlight the role the magazine and its artists have played in shaping our understanding of what’s modern and cool in America. Before joining Playboy, Baker worked as a fine art specialist for Butterfields & Butterfields, where he organized The Playboy Auction, an auction that led to his current position.
In addition to previously serving as an Adjunct Professor of Art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Northwestern University, he served on the Exhibition Selections Committee for the Chicago Cultural Center from 2005 to 2009 and has been a judge for the Heartland Alliance’s Art Against AIDS from 2006 to the present. Baker is an artist and received his BFA from the University of North Texas in 1994 and his MFA from University of Nevada at Las Vegas in 1998.