Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
Mouth #8
signed 'Wesselmann' (upper center); signed again and dated 'Wesselmann 1966' (on the stretcher)
oil and liquitex on linen
75 x 97 in. (190.5 x 246.4 cm.)
Painted in 1966.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
G. Edgren, The Playboy Book: Fifty Years, Los Angeles, 2005, pp. 142-143.
Playboy Collector's Edition (Playboy's 50th Anniversary Issue), vol. 51, no. 1, p. 132.
R. Bradbury, The Art of Playboy, New York, 1985, p. 88.
A. Paul, "The Playmate as Fine Art: Eleven Famous Contemporary Artists Interpret Playboy's Provocative Gatefold Girl," Playboy, vol. 14, no. 1, January 1967, p. 146 and 147 (illustrated in color).
Minneapolis, Dayton's Gallery 12; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and Lincoln, De Cordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Tom Wesselmann, June-July 1968.
Milan, Rotunda della Besana; London, Royal College of Art; Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten; Arnham, Gemeentemuseum; Düsseldorf, Künstlerverein Malkasten; Aachen, Neue Galerie Im Alten Kurhaus; Munich, Kunstverein; Lausanne, Musée des Arts Décoratifs; Tokyo, Central Museum of Art; Osaka, Umeda Kindai Museum; Fukuoka, Bunda Kaikan; Coral Gables, University of Miami, Lowe Museum of Art; Tallahassee, Florida State University; Baltimore, Morgan State College, Murphy Fine Arts Center; Philadelphia Art Alliance; Los Angeles, Municipal Art Gallery; Palo Alto, Syntex Art Gallery and New York Cultural Center, Beyond Illustration: The Art of Playboy, September 1971-September 1974, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Calgary, Alberta College of Art Gallery; Saskatoon Gallery and Conservatory Corporation, Mendel Art Gallery; Oshkosh, University of Wisconsin, Piebe Gallery; Art Institute of Atlanta; Chicago Cultural Center; Auburn University; Denver, Colorado Institute of Art; Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale; Flint, University of Michigan; Topeka, Washburn University, Mulvane Art Center; Daytona Beach Community College; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Arts Center; New York, Syracuse University, Lubin House; Plattsville, University of Wisconsin; Museum at Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, Rio Palace Hotel Gallery, The Art of Playboy- From the First 25 Years, November 1976-June 1981, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Sale room notice
signed 'Wesselmann' (upper center); signed again and dated 'Wesselmann 1966' (on the stretcher)

Lot Essay

Commissioned directly from the artist by Playboy's Art Director, Arthur Paul, Tom Wesselmann's Mouth # 8 from 1966 is an early permutation of the now iconic Mouth series begun by Wesselmann in 1965. A theme he explored for over a decade, the Mouth paintings would encapsulate his interest in medium and technique as well as composition and scale. The early works in this series (including the present lot), were billboard sized cut-out mouths painted on linen that elaborated the qualities of color and form inherent to his subject. The curvilinear shape of the linen along with the brightly hued red of the lips is accented by highlights of white conveying a glossy surface. A hazy plane of pink retreats within, depicting a sensuous tongue behind youthful, polished white teeth. Inspired by his model and friend, Peggy Sarno, and of course the Playmate, Mouth #8 conveys a reduction in pictorial elements which capitalizes on a bold color palette and simplicity of form through which associations to reality are easily established. Wesselmann's works have now pervaded cosmetic advertistements, including Revlon's "Irrestible Lips" campaign or Alexandra de Markoff's 1995 campagin, "Lips Like Hers," which depicted a disembodied pair of lips next to a "fully extended lipstick, its phallic role obvious" (J. Wilmerding, Tom Wesselmann: His Voice and Vision, New York, 2008, p. 127). The influence of advertising is undeniable, both formally and in theory. Wesselmann was distinctly aware of the potency of visual associations and the ability of imagery to convey meaning without the entire descriptive picture. Similarly, the advertising industry would take a cue from the overwhleming strength of his sexually charged works.

Wesselmann's Mouth paintings succinctly convey the eroticism at the heart of his message, by reducing the overarching sentiment to a direct symbolic level. In regards to the Playboy commission, Wesselmann explained that "I chose to do a huge cutout mouth in order to isolate and make more intense the one body part that has a high degree of both sexual and expressive connotations- but then painted a mouth with low degrees of each quality, to keep it, like the Playmate, somewhat glossy yet inviting" (quoted in "The Playmate as Fine Art: Eleven Famous Contemporary Artists Interpret Playboy's Provocative Gatefold Girl," Playboy, vol. 14, no. 1, January 1967, p. 1460). These connotations, direct and literally larger than life, have come to embody the spirit of Wesselmann's oeuvre and the power of Pop art within 20th century Art production and aesthetics.

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