TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
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Property from a Distinguished Private Collection
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)

Still Life with Four Lizes

Details
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
Still Life with Four Lizes
signed and dated 'Wesselmann 91' (on the reverse)
alkyd on cut-out steel
68 x 80 in. (172.7 x 203.2 cm.)
Executed in 1991.
Provenance
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
J. Wilmerding, Tom Wesselmann: His Voice and Vision, New York, 2008, p. 199 (illustrated).
S. Aquin, Tom Wesselmann, New York, 2012, p. 151, pl. 87 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Tom Wesselmann New Metal Paintings, October-December 1992, p. 5 (illustrated).
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Beyond Pop Art: Tom Wesselmann, May-October 2012, p. 151, pl. 87 (illustrated).

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Lot essay

I’m terribly excited about those [metal works]… I find sometimes I get so excited working, especially when starting new ideas; I get so excited that I get uncomfortable. It almost feels dangerous , like I’m flirting with something dangerous. Sometimes I’ve gotten so excited that I’ll come home early – just too exciting. I had to get out of here; I couldn’t stand it.”

Tom Wesselmann

When Tom Wesselmann emerged as an artist in the 1960s, his bold, new type of genre painting immediately earned him a place among Pop Art’s standard bearers. Along with Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein, Wesselmann felt that he had little to add to the triumphs of Abstract Expressionism, and he instead turned to figuration and the visual potential of popular imagery as a means of finding new artistic direction, truly speaking to his era and surroundings.


Together with his series of Great American Nudes, the artist’s Still Life series did much to define the bold aesthetics of the new movement that would completely re-write the canon of western art history. Yet unlike his contemporaries—whose work sought to celebrate American popular culture—Wesselmann himself rejected the Pop Art moniker, saying his work was primarily focused on painterly concerns. As curator Thomas H. Garver notes, during this period the words “integrity” and “situation” were frequently used by Wesselmann to describe his paintings. He saw himself as continuing the engagement with painting problems—not images—which had begun when he was a student engaged with the dynamic tension inherent in Abstract Expressionism (T. H. Garver, Tom Wesselmann Early Still Lifes 1962-1964, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1971, n.p.).


Wesselmann’s innovations in still-life began in the early 1960s, when he incorporated actual labels onto a painted surface, creating a surface tension and jarring spatial relationships between objects. Although his subjects stayed the same, he relentlessly experimented with them, reinvigorating a staid genre by using unorthodox media and executing them in a contemporary way that is always unmistakably his own. Wesselmann’s most radical re-invention of the genre are his steel cut drawings, like Still Life with Four Lizes, in which he creates drawings in space that use the wall as the ground for the composition. In the present work, Wesselmann used only line, shape and color to create an abundant and spatially complex arrangement. It is a superb example of the artist’s mastery of this newly adopted form. Here Wesselmann takes Warhol’s Liz Taylor—an overtly Pop icon—and places it inside the work as nothing more than an object in a room.

Through methodically cut steel, lines and forms begin to take shape against the wall much in the way of a drawing whose lines reverberate against the negative space of the paper beneath. Wesselmann creates a familiar and recognizable setting, a home, that is infused with cheerful, brightly painted flowers and objects of domestic life like the highly patterned table covering. By using Warhol’s interpretation of an Elizabeth Taylor publicity photograph here, Wesselmann not only affirms Warhol in the art historical canon of Pop Art, but also solidifies Warhol’s art as an object of everyday life, a commodity in and of itself. Wesselmann’s approach to art, while inherently tied to Warhol and the Pop era, seeks to turn the notion of Pop on its head—re-contextualizing it through observation, and capturing it within a fleeting moment of everyday life. It is in this sense that Wesselmann truly captures the era in which he was living, the pervasiveness of Pop and the way Pop iconography bled into every part of life.

While contemporaries such as Warhol and Lichtenstein sought to celebrate the ubiquitous nature of the image, Wesselmann remained tied to revealing the creativity and skill of the artists themselves, whilst at the same time remaining resolutely contemporary. Wesselmann pulled from a vast reservoir of traditional subject matter that he subsequently stylized, eroticized and made his own. By playing with the visual tropes that were already extant, the artist was able to question the history of representation and how it affected contemporary visual culture.

Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).

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