Tom Wesselmann: Pop Art and Intention

The American Pop Art movement had its share of reluctant participants. Perhaps most notorious among them is Tom Wesselmann. Mentioned alongside the biggest names in Pop – WarholLichtensteinRosenquist and Johns − Wesselmann rejected the Pop label and any other label for that matter. The artist was among those masters who viewed themselves independent of any such art movement associations, interpreting such labeling as confining and simplistic, unable to capture the essence of their style. For Wesselmann, it boiled down to a matter of intention.


Unlike Warhol or Rosenquist, Wesselmann thought his art to be less confrontational, as he offered no criticism of society within the objects of brand and commercialism included in his works. What the artist failed to acknowledge or recognize is that Pop Art was a force of nature. Once unleashed, it lived in the public domain, providing an artist with little room to “opt out.” The Pop Artist tag would be especially difficult for Tom Wesselmann to shed, as the nature of his work was entirely in sync with the very attributes that fit the Pop motif. Intentional or otherwise, one Pop characteristic that served Wesselmann well was the ability to understand the moment and seize a golden opportunity.


Tom Wesselmann played off his own opportunism as pure coincidence. Just a 1960s working artist in New York, painting objects of commercialism and consumerism in large scale, in close proximity to a core of Pop Artists, such as Alex Katz, who Wesselmann befriended. Like Katz, Wesselmann’s style bespeaks that of a Pop Artist on the fringe. By the late sixties, as he began moving away from iconic objects of commercialism, Tom Wesselmann’s works still boar a number of Pop Art footprints, yet with an unassuming and less conscious approach – devoid of any motive to manipulate public opinion.

Since 1993 I’ve basically been an abstract painter. This is what happened: in 1984 I started making steel and aluminum cut-out figures… One day I got muddled up with the remnants and I was struck by the infinite variety of abstract possibilities. That was when I understood I was going back to what I had desperately been aiming for in 1959, and I started making abstract three-dimensional images in cut metal. I was happy and free to go back to what I wanted: but this time not on De Kooning’s terms but on mine.”

-Tom Wesselmann, 2003

Ask any Contemporary Art enthusiast about Tom Wesselmann and the first thing that comes to mind, whether stated or not, is Wesselmann’s women. The artist’s figurative drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures manage to capture the female form in a manner so unique that it’s mesmerizing. Sensual, revealing, intimate and honest − Wesselmann’s nudes are provocative and inviting. In the case of Great American Nude #92, a Tom Wesselmann 1967 painting that is part of a series called Great American Nude, the piece created a fair amount of controversy and intrigue.


There are a number of Wesselmann collectors who simply adore the artist’s use of color and powerful lines, but shy away from the artist’s highly sexualized offerings, opting for equally captivating landscapes or still life renderings.  Among the Wesselmann collectors who adore his nudes, there are also many who prefer the works featuring subjects more conservatively posed.


Tom Wesselmann’s nudes, though revealing, leave much to the viewer’s imagination. Faces are often portrayed anonymously, with full expressive lips serving as are the only facial features present. Stylized hair, pronounced breasts, an alluring pose and curves of the body help tell the story, but just a hint. Bold blocks and thick lines of color adorn clothing, flowers, furnishings and accessories provide the viewer with additional details.


One 1993 screenprint by Tom Wesselmann, Claire Seated with Robe Half-Off is wonderful representation of a repetitive theme used by the artist. Paying homage to two favorite muses at once, a reclined Vivienne serves as backdrop to a standing Claire. For collectors of who fully embrace Wesselmann’s varied portrayal of female subjects, each piece tells more of a larger story waiting to be told. Nothing Wesselmann ever feels forced or constructed for consumption. It’s merely a highly talented creator inviting us to join him, in his intimate spaces, with lovely companions. If you feel as we do, it’s an invitation you’ll accept time and time again.



If you enjoy limited edition prints and assorted works from Wesselmann, Warhol, Lichtenstein and the masters of Pop Art, we invite you to visit with us at our Boca Raton Contemporary Art gallery.  We’re also available to assist you online or via telephone during gallery hours.  Please feel free to contact us.

October 30, 2013
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