TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)

Bedroom Painting #37

TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
Bedroom Painting #37
titled and dated 'BEDROOM PAINTING #37 1977' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
70 x 68 in. (177.8 x 172.7 cm)
Painted in 1977.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Howard Weingrow, New York
Private collection, Palm Desert, 1981
Christie's Inc., New York, 2011
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2014
S. Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York, 1980, p. 211 (illustrated).
J. Wilmerding, Tom Wesselmann: His Voice and Vision, New York, 2008, p. 49 (illustrated).
Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Art, Feminine Image, March-May 1997.
Further details
Please note that this work will be included in the Tom Wesselmann Digital Corpus published by the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, and will be included in their forthcoming Tom Wesselmann Digital Catalogue Raisonné.

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Lot Essay

Sensual, sharp, and visually complex, Tom Wesselmann’s Bedroom Painting #37 is an evocative example of the artist’s contributions to figurative painting and the rise of Pop Art. Combining two of his formative series, the Great American Nude and Still Life works that set the stage for Wesselmann on a grand scale, the Bedroom Paintings hinge upon female figures surrounded by the trappings of domestic interiors. Often paired with beds, wallpapered surfaces, and objects one might find piled atop a nightstand, works like the present example proffer an intimate, sensual air mixed with the artist’s predilection for maximalist compositions. Critic Lucy Lippard noted, "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). By pitting anonymous figures against eroticism and traditional genres against the mass media representations of American consumerism, Wesselmann created a rich oeuvre that speaks directly to a critique of image culture at large.

Rendered on a nearly square canvas, Bedroom Painting #37 is an explosion of color and form that fills the frame and threatens to burst into our space. On the left, a cropped close-up of a woman’s face shows the subject with blue-painted eyes closed and mouth open, the sensual nature of his oeuvre is overriding. Though she is what the viewer is drawn to first, the woman takes her place with the rest of the composition that threatens to crowd her out of frame. A large silver light switch atop black wallpaper with stylized green and yellow leaves takes charge of the upper right corner while the bottom third of the painting is given to large yellow and red flowers and part of a picture frame. The photo in the frame seems to be a portrait of a brunette individual, and one can postulate that the subject is the same woman depicted above. As is typical of his work, all of the painted elements in this work are rendered with a pictorial flatness that references both the billboard painters of yesteryear while also making allusions to the style of Alex Katz, under whom Wesselmann studied, and the delicate sharpness of Matisse’s paper cut-outs. Wesselmann, speaking to this fact, noted that “too much detail could slow it down” (T. Wesselmann quoted in T. Buchsteiner, O. Letze, Tom Wesselmann, exh. cat. Institute for Cultural Exchange, Tübingen, 1996, p. 11). Instead, by creating a more generalized rendition, the artist pulls focus from the artist’s hand or any recognizable individuals and a sense of mystery that is simultaneously attractive and difficult to enter.

Early in his career, Wesselmann found power in the dynamic juxtaposition of painted imagery and collaged cuttings from magazines and newspapers. Bringing the real world of advertisement and mass media into the composition to parry with his exquisitely rendered forms created a hybrid space that alluded to the outside world and the interior realm of painted representation. “This kind of relationship helps establish a momentum throughout the picture,” he explained about his early collage works, “all the elements are in some way very intense. Therefore throughout the picture - all the elements compete with each other. 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 an interview with G. Swenson, ARTnews, 1964, p. 44). As he progressed, Wesselmann began to collage symbols and visual motifs in an effort to explore the way in which we perceive the world and how the world is constructed by images. Bedroom Painting #37 is notable for the way space is manipulated so that each object and figure exists with illusionary depth and yet behaves like a flat piece of paper that has been affixed to the surface.

This kind of relationship helps establish a momentum throughout the picture, all the elements are in some way very intense. Therefore throughout the picture - all the elements compete with each other. 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 an interview with G. Swenson, ARTnews, 1964, p. 44)

Wesselmann was heavily influenced by Willem de Kooning in his final years studying at Cooper Union. Originally planning to become a cartoonist, the young artist began experimenting with collage and was drawn to the all-over compositions of the Abstract Expressionists. Emboldened by artists like de Kooning but looking to divert from the non-representational, Wesselmann turned away from abstraction in favor of figurative painting in the late 1950s. "When I made the decision in 1959 that I was not going to be an abstract painter, that I was going to be a representational painter, I had absolutely no enthusiasm about any particular subject or direction or anything. I was starting from absolute zero. And in choosing representational painting, I decided to do, as my subject matter, the history of art: I would do nudes, still lives, landscapes, interiors, portraits, etc. It didn't take long before I began to follow my most active interests: nudes and still lives" (T. Wesselmann, quoted in M. Livingstone, "Telling it like it is", Tom Wesselmann, exh. cat., 1996, p. 10). Looking both at traditional art historical genres and at the inundation of media in the mid-twentieth century, Wesselmann focused on disrupting the domestic interior with visually provocative and compositionally dense arrangements.

While the young artist worked to parse the connections between the art of painting and the rampant American consumerism of the 1950s and 1960s, others were dealing with the same kinds of questions. Together, although not specifically working in conjunction with each other, they signaled the rise of Pop Art. “Along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist and Jim Dine, Mr. Wesselmann belonged to a generation of artists who gave American art and culture a new sense of itself. They found inspiration, source materials and even working methods…in advertising, movies, food labels, household appliances, newspaper front pages and in commercial art techniques like silkscreen, Benday dots and billboard painting. The changes they wrought continue to reverberate through contemporary art and life” (R. Smith, “Tom Wesselmann, 73, Pop Artist Known for Sleek Nudes, Is Dead” New York Times, December 20, 2004). Though he began with found collage elements that were more Dadaist in nature, the artist’s transition into pure painting helped to more accurately convey his interest in how different elements react to each other within the confines of the canvas. Continuing to probe the depths of popular culture for his entire career, Wesselmann established a singular style that has continued to provoke and entice audiences the world over.

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