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Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)

Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)

Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
Bathtub Collage #4
signed and dated 'Wesselmann 64' (upper left); signed again, titled twice and dated again 'BATHTUB COLLAGE #4 3/1964 Wesselmann BATHTUB COLLAGE #4' (on the reverse)
acrylic, linoleum, wood, painted plastic, glue, metal and charcoal on board
36 x 51 x 4 in. (91.4 x 129.5 x 10 cm.)
Executed in 1964.
Ileana Sonnabend, Paris
Betty Barman, Brussels
Galerie Ronny Van de Velde, Antwerp
Acquired from the above by the present owner
S. Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York, 1980, p. 133 (illustrated).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Pop Art, Nouveau Realisme, etc., February-March 1965.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, 40 Ans d'Art Vivant: Hommage à Robert Giron, March-April 1968, no. 107.

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Lot Essay

In Bathtub Collage #4, Tom Wesselmann updates the canonical toilette scene with candy colored paint and the real-life furnishings of a classic 1960s bathroom. The work demonstrates the artist's increasingly refined style, using clear, bright colors and tight, delineated edges. Interweaving painted elements with found objects, Wesselmann creates an irresistible tangle of color and shape, grounded in the iconography of the classical nude. According to the artist, these juxtapositions "help establish a momentum throughout the picture... At first glance, my pictures seem well behaved, as if--that is a still life, O.K. But these things have such crazy give-and-take that I feel they get really very wild" (T. Wesselmann, quoted in interview with G. Swenson, ARTnews, 1964, p. 44). Painted in 1963, Bathtub Collage uses vivid hues to tempt our gaze into a world of easy sensory appeal, while its skillful manipulation of traditional and contemporary emblems heralded the reign of Pop.

With an electric palette of pastel pink, orange and sea-foam green, Wesselmann infuses new life into classic imagery famously rendered by Titian, Velázquez and Bonnard. According to critic Lucy Lippard, "Wesselmann likes the reverberations between painted and collaged images, art history and advertising, trompe-l'oeil and reality'' (L. Lippard, Pop Art, New York, 1967, p. 112). Henri Matisse's Pink Nude was a particular touchstone for Wesselmann, and both Matisse's picture and Bathtub Collage #4 feature blonde nudes reclining horizontally against flattened grounds of geometric tiling.

In the 1963 work, the pink toilet seat that rests against a painted burgundy cistern owes much to Duchamp. Fountain, a ceramic urinal signed "R. Mutt," paved the way for artists to claim domestic objects as tools of artistic subversion. Often referred to as a Neo-Dadaist, Wesselmann shows his own mastery of complex conceptual interplay, using readymade linoleum tiling with a marbled design to experiment with a trompe l'oeil readymade. The artist also pays tribute to Duchamp's love of ironic wordplay: in Bathtub Collage #4, he creates a playful visual pun by adding an actual toilet seat to the canonical toilette scene.

Talking about his propensity to depict his figures anonymously Wesselmann claimed, "From the very beginning I did not put faces on them, because I liked the painting to have a kind of action that would sweep through it, and certain things would slow that down: too much detail could slow it down. A face on the nude became like a personality and changed the whole feel of the work, made it more like a portrait nude and I didn't like that" (T. Wesselmann, quoted in T. Buchsteiner and O. Letze, Tom Wesselmann, Ostfildern, 1996, p. 11). The artist's subject matter, then, focuses less on the nude as an emblem of female beauty and more on the abstract image of that subject, which he achieves through a faceless, anonymous model. Though devoid of any defining features save for her blonde bob, pale pink lips and feminine curvilinear body, Wesselmann explained that the Bathtub Collages were not just "nudes," not just part of a genre, but instead deeply personal renderings that were based on his wife Claire's own gestures during moments of intimacy. The artist had just married that year, and swaps vibrant paint for charcoal line when depicting his wife's body. His sketchy, reworked rendering of Claire's contoured profile shows his deep affection for her.

Wesselmann's primary interest, however, was representing the idea of feminine sexuality rather than a singular woman. In Bathtub Collage sexual signifiers are ever-present: the pink, upright toilet seat metonymically alludes to the male voyeur looking on. In the 1960s, commercial and advertising imagery was inextricably tied to themes of voyeurism, marketing everyday objects in sparkling, sexy advertisements that formed new material desires. Yet the bathing female hardly seems concerned with the idea of being watched; she stares straight ahead with relaxed gestures--demonstrating women's new freedom to embrace their sexuality in the 1960s due to the radically progressing sexual revolution.

With flat coloring, collaged objects and art historical allusion, Wesselmann brazenly disregarded formerly accepted notions of art and artistry, of reality and representation. Bathtub Collage #4 was created at the height of artistic innovation in the 1960s, just as Lichtenstein, Warhol and Rosenquist found inspiration in commercial imagery and mass produced goods. As Henry Geldzahler observed: "About a year and a half ago I saw the works of Wesselmann... Warhol, Rosenquist and Lichtenstein in their studios (it was more or less July 1961). They were working independently, unaware of each other, but drawing on a common source of imagination...This is an instant history of art, a history of art that became so aware of itself as to make a leap that went beyond art itself" (H. Geldzahler, in Arts Magazine, 1963, p. 37). At the same time, Wesselmann's style slightly resists the simple classification of Pop: while his peers illustrated everyday motifs in order to critique, the artist wholeheartedly revels in the fetishized elements that make up Bathtub Collage #4. Delectably-hued and sparkling-clean, Wesselmann's toilet seat, flush and soap dish appear like proud emblems of America's media-saturated age.

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