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.
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.
Standing Still Lifes
Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes is available for online reading from August 30 through September 28 as part of the From the Library series. The publication features nine monumental works made by Wesselmann between 1967 and 1981, shown together for the first time as a complete series in 2018 at Gagosian, 555 West 24th Street, New York. Each large-scale work comprises multiple canvases, both hanging and standing, shaped according to the outlines of the commonplace objects that they depict. The catalogue features a text by Ara H. Merjian, a conversation between Michael Craig-Martin and Jeffrey Sturges, and a chronology by Lauren Mahony.
Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes (New York: Gagosian, 2018)
Digital Catalogue Raisonné
The Wildenstein Plattner Institute (WPI), in partnership with the Estate of Tom Wesselmann, announces the preparation of a digital catalogue raisonné of the works of Tom Wesselmann. The first installment will be published on the Great American Nudes series. In advance of publication, a publicly available searchable database of all works recorded by the artist’s Estate, which incorporates ongoing research for the forthcoming catalogue raisonné, called the Tom Wesselmann Digital Corpus, has been launched.
Parallel with this effort, the Estate of Tom Wesselmann, Almine Rech, and Gagosian are also pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of Tom Wesselmann: The Great American Nudes. Edited by Susan Davidson, the monograph will be the first comprehensive publication dedicated to Wesselmann’s most famous body of work, made between 1961 and 1973. The book will include full color reproductions of each artwork, as well as related drawings, studies, and relevant works from associated series.
For collectors to confirm that a work in their possession will be included in the digital catalogue raisonné, please visit wpi.art to begin the submission process.
Tom Wesselmann, Great American Nude #1, 1961 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by ARS/VAGA, New York
Art Basel Hong Kong Online
March 20–25, 2020
Works by Georg Baselitz, Jennifer Guidi, Tetsuya Ishida, Jia Aili, Takashi Murakami, Mary Weatherford, Tom Wesselmann, and Zeng Fanzhi were available exclusively online. The selection was also on view in the Art Basel Hong Kong Online Viewing Rooms, accessible through artbasel.com and the Art Basel app.
Takashi Murakami, Kiki, 2018–20 © 2020 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved
The Paradox of Stillness
Art, Object, and Performance
Opening May 15, 2021
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Featuring works from the early twentieth century to today, The Paradox of Stillness examines the notion of stillness as both a performative and a visual gesture. More than sixty-five artists present object-based art, pictures, and actions staged by live performers to test the boundaries between stillness and motion, mortality and aliveness, and the still life and the living picture. Work by Urs Fischer, Piero Manzoni, Cindy Sherman, Tom Wesselmann, and Franz West is included.
Urs Fischer, Untitled, 2003 © Urs Fischer
The Whitney’s Collection
Selections from 1900 to 1965
Through May 2022
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
This exhibition of more than 120 works, drawn entirely from the Whitney’s collection, is inspired by the founding history of the museum. The Whitney was established in 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to champion the work of living American artists. A sculptor and a patron, Whitney recognized both the importance of contemporary American art and the need to support the artists who made it. The collection she assembled foregrounds how artists uniquely reveal the complexity and beauty of American life. Work by Jay DeFeo, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann is included.
Installation view, The Whitney’s Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, June 28, 2019–May 2022. Artwork, left to right: © 2020 The Jay DeFeo Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Norman Lewis; © 2020 The Franz Kline Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Ron Amstutz
The Taste of Art
February 19–July 26, 2020
Museum Tinguely, Basel
Amuse-Bouche: The Taste of Art presents works—some with a participatory element—by more than forty-five international artists from the Baroque period to the present that explore taste as a dimension of aesthetic perception. Breaking with the usual museum practice of appealing primarily to the sense of sight, works in the exhibition offer art historical and phenomenological encounters with the sense of taste. Work by Urs Fischer, Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann is included.
Installation view, Amuse-Bouche: The Taste of Art, Museum Tinguely, Basel, February 19–July 26, 2020. Artwork, left to right: © Opavivará!; © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2020. Photo: Gina Folly © 2020 Museum Tinguely, Basel
Andy Warhol bis Cindy Sherman
Amerikanische Kunst aus der Albertina
November 19, 2019–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