In all of my dimensional work I use the third dimension to intensify the two-dimensional experience. It becomes part of a vivid two-dimensional image. The third dimension, while actually existing, is only an illusion in terms of the painting, which remains by intent in a painting and not a sculptural context.
—Slim Stealingworth (a pseudonym of Tom Wesselmann)
Gagosian is pleased to present Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes, an exhibition of nine monumental works made between 1967 and 1981. This is the first time that the complete series will be shown together.
Each large-scale work comprises multiple canvases, both hanging and standing, shaped according to the outlines of the commonplace objects that they depict. Wesselmann’s spatial and pictorial innovation in the Standing Still Life paintings have precedents in his early work. His drawings of his wife and lifelong muse, Claire Selley—beginning in the 1950s when they met as students at Cooper Union—often took the form of hybrid collages that incorporated sketches and scraps of wallpaper and advertisements that he found in the New York City subway. Similarly, his early assemblage paintings, which included functioning objects and gadgets, present shifting images that advance and retreat depending on the viewer’s relative position, like stage sets that can be seen but not entered.
Wesselmann’s inquiries into the material qualities of painting evolved, and in 1972 he exhibited a Standing Still Life for the first time at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, along with a selection of smaller works from his Bedroom Paintings series. The still lifes imply narratives: in Still Life #60 (1973), a huge six-part work measuring almost thirty feet in width, the objects, which appear to be the contents of a woman’s purse, suggest a human presence; a visitor who has placed her belongings on a bedside table. In a sense, the still life has become a stand-in for the nude, or the intimate portrait of the beloved subject, Claire, absent from the image itself.
In his graphic compositions, Wesselmann achieved the precise formal and chromatic arrangement by shifting panels until the composition “locked into place.” In the mode of New York Pop art, which Wesselmann played an integral role in shaping, some of these motifs are specific to their moment, such as the framed portrait of the actress Mary Tyler Moore, while others recur throughout Wesselmann’s oeuvre, from the round orange to the vase of flowers and the radio.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, including a new text by Ara H. Merjian, a conversation between Michael Craig-Martin and Jeffrey Sturges, and a chronology by Lauren Mahony.
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)