The prime mission of my art . . . is to make figurative art as exciting as abstract art.
Tom Wesselmann (1931–2004) was one of the leading American Pop artists of the 1960s. Departing from Abstract Expressionism, he explored classical representations of the nude, still life, and landscape, while incorporating everyday objects and advertising ephemera.
Wesselmann was drafted into the US Army in 1952, two years into the Korean War. During his military service, he learned—then taught—aerial photography interpretation, and began to draw cartoons about his experiences. Upon his return to his hometown of Cincinnati, he completed a BA in psychology at the University of Cincinnati and began taking classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In fall 1956, he moved to New York City to study art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where the artist Nicholas Marsicano was one of his instructors. At Cooper Union, he met Claire Selley, who would become his wife and lifelong muse. Wesselmann's early drawings of Selley often took the form of hybrid collages, incorporating sketches, scraps of wallpaper, and found advertisements. Similarly, his early assemblage paintings, which include functioning objects and gadgets, present shifting images that advance and retreat depending on the viewer’s relative position.
Living in Brooklyn, Wesselmann supported himself by selling cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post, “gag” magazines, and advertising agencies. In the late 1950s, he cofounded the Judson Gallery in the West Village with Marc Ratliff and Jim Dine. After completing his studies at Cooper Union, Wesselmann spent three years teaching high school art and math. During the evening, he continued to expand his own artistic practice, making small portrait collages, such as his groundbreaking Portrait Collage #1 (1959). Wesselmann recalled: “I wanted my painting to be spatially and visually aggressive like de Kooning. But in order to be myself, I knew I had to forget de Kooning, just as he got around Picasso.”
Wesselmann is highly regarded for his Great American Nude series (1961–73), which combines sensual depictions of the female figure with references to art history and popular culture. Many of these lounging female subjects were painted in patriotic red, white, and blue, quoting the Western figurative tradition while incorporating elements of high voltage American advertising. In the late 1960s Wesselmann created close-up views of the nude in the Bedroom Paintings (1968–83). In these works a single part of the body, such as a hand or a breast, is juxtaposed with objects common to the bedroom—a light switch, flowers, the edges of pillows, and curtains.
From 1967 through 1981 Wesselmann worked on his Standing Still Life paintings, monumental works comprising multiple canvases shaped according to the outline of the commonplace objects that they depict; in 2018 the complete series of nine works was exhibited for the first time at Gagosian on West 24th Street, New York. After the Standing Still Lifes, Wesselmann continued to make three-dimensional sculptural work. He also developed an innovative technique of “drawing” with sculptural materials, cutting steel and aluminum in the shape of his drawn forms. His abstract works of the mid-1990s, through the early 2000s expanded this mode of working on a larger scale, and continued to push the boundaries between painting and sculpture.
June 14–August 16, 2019
Park & 75, New York
July 12–August 24, 2018
Standing Still Lifes
January 18–February 24, 2018
555 West 24th Street, New York
October 4–December 16, 2017
Davies Street, London
The Parameters of Perception
Michael Craig-Martin and Jeffrey Sturges in conversation on Tom Wessselmann’s Standing Still Lifes.
Richard Phillips on Tom Wesselmann
Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes closes this week at Gagosian New York. In this text, Richard Phillips speaks with Jason Ysenburg about the impact of the exhibition. A video about the exhibition and the artist’s studio practice accompanies the text.
Tom Wesselmann: In the Studio
Join us for a look at Tom Wesselmann’s New York studio in this behind-the-scenes video. Featuring archival footage of Wesselmann at work, as well as new interviews with his family, studio team, and friends, the film documents the creative process behind his large-scale works, from early still lifes to later abstractions.
Reinventing the Nude
Modern master Henri Matisse was a touchstone for American Pop artist Tom Wesselmann throughout his career.
A 1964 publication by the Chinese-American artist and poet Walasse Ting and Abstract Expressionist painter Sam Francis.
Art Basel Hong Kong Online
March 20–25, 2020
The selection is also on view in the Art Basel Hong Kong Online Viewing Rooms, which is accessible through artbasel.com and the Art Basel app.
Takashi Murakami, Kiki, 2018–20 © 2020 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved
Frieze Los Angeles 2020
How to Shrink L.A.
February 14–16, 2020, booth C06
Paramount Picture Studios, Los Angeles
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Frieze Los Angeles 2020. Taking Los Angeles’s system of highways as a literal and figurative backdrop, the selection includes Richard Prince’s full-scale car sculpture Untitled (2008) and Chris Burden’s ominously oversize L.A.P.D. Uniform (1993). The booth also includes work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Chamberlain, Urs Fischer, Theaster Gates, Piero Golia, Alex Israel, Sally Mann, Adam McEwen, Cady Noland, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Taryn Simon, Robert Therrien, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, and others.
Chris Burden, How to Shrink L.A., 1999 © 2020 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
January 30–February 2, 2020, booth B25
Gagosian is pleased to participate in artgenève 2020, with modern and contemporary works by Davide Balula, Georg Baselitz, Helen Frankenthaler, Simon Hantaï, Damien Hirst, Grant Levy-Lucero, Henri Matisse, Olivier Mosset, Giuseppe Penone, Pablo Picasso, David Reed, Sterling Ruby, Spencer Sweeney, and Tom Wesselmann, among others.
Helen Frankenthaler, Omen, 1980 © 2020 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Closing this Week
Andy Warhol bis Cindy Sherman
Amerikanische Kunst aus der Albertina
Through March 29, 2020
Schlossmuseum Linz, Austria
Europe’s view of America is influenced by images of the entertainment industry: from film and television to advertising and newspapers. No other nation has placed so much reliance upon the power and impact of pictures and symbols as the US. With more than two hundred works of American art from 1960 to the present day, this large-scale exhibition, whose title translates to Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman: American Art from the Albertina Museum, aims to illustrate how much our perceptions of truth and reality, facts and fake news, owe to America’s visual culture. Work by Gregory Crewdson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann is included.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled (#112), 2003 © Cindy Sherman
La promesse du bonheur
June 29, 2018–January 6, 2019
Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, Villa Paloma
This focused survey explores a number of specific aspects of Tom Wesselmann’s work and production, including their relationship to postwar economic abundance, Victorian and post-Victorian sexuality, and questions of female agency.
Tom Wesselmann, Seascape #10, 1966 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by ARS/VAGA, New York
June 14–September 10, 2017
Palais de Tokyo, Paris
This exhibition explores the diorama as an unexpected source of inspiration for contemporary art. At the intersection of art, cinema, and theater, this cross-disciplinary exhibition recontextualizes the diorama with a renewed approach to the history of spectatorship, including the influence of science and technology on popular culture, fun fairs, and exhibitions. Work by Duane Hanson, Anselm Kiefer, Tatiana Trouvé, Jeff Wall, and Tom Wesselmann is included.
Tatiana Trouvé, Untitled, 2007 © ADAGP, Paris 2017. Photo by Daniele Resini
L’arte contemporanea incontra l’amore
March 17–July 23, 2017
Società per la Belle Arti Esposizione Permanente, Milan
For LOVE. L’arte contemporanea incontra l’amore, curator Danilo Eccher chose thirty-nine works by artists including Francesco Vezzoli, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann that depict love from their point of view. Visitors are invited to leave their testimony regarding the exhibition, creating a group recollection that will grow day by day.
Tom Wesselmann, Smoker #3 (3-D), 2003 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York