TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
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TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)

Wildflower Bouquet (Tall Vase) (Small) (Variation #1)

TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
Wesselmann, T.
Wildflower Bouquet (Tall Vase) (Small) (Variation #1)
signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'STEEL DRAWING/WILDFLOWER BOUQUET (TALL VASE) (VAR #1) TOM WESSELMANN 1987 WESSELMANN 87' (on the reverse)
enamel on laser-cut steel
63 ¾ x 41 ¾ in. (162 x 106 cm.)
Executed in 1987, this work is unique
with Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, where purchased by Ralph Ehrmann in 1987.
Acquired from the above by the present owners.

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Lot Essay

Tom Wesselmann’s arrival on the scene in the 1960s introduced a bold, new type of genre painting which rapidly earned him a place in the Pop Art hall of fame. Along with Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein, Wesselmann felt restricted by his reverence for the previous generation of 20th-century modern artists, and as such looked to the visual potential of popular imagery as a means of finding a new artistic direction: ‘Since I was turning my back on [abstraction], I decided I had to be tight and small and figurative, all the things I’d scorned.’ He took ‘solace in the feeling that I couldn’t be with them or like them, but I could be myself’ (the artist quoted in the Klüver Martin interview, 21 January 1991, tape 180a).

In keeping with those modern masters, however, and in playful competition with them, one of Wesselmann's most prolific subjects was the still life. Although his subjects stayed the same, he relentlessly experimented with them, re-invigorating a staid genre by using unorthodox media and executing it in a contemporary way unmistakably his own. While his innovations began in the early 1960s with the incorporation of actual object labels and collaged images onto his painted surfaces, his most radical re-invention of the genre came with steel cut drawings – an innovation which he saw as taking up a mantle left him by Matisse: ‘I felt a strong obligation, in a sense, to be the next in line, or to take up the next position in the whole progression … [from] Matisse [to the] present’ (the artist quoted in exhbition catalogue, Tom Wesselmann, Rome, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, 2005, p. 262). Just as graphic hyperreality created an uncanny spatial dynamic within his early still life pieces, his pioneering use of laser-cut technologies resulted in distillations of form enhanced by the sculptural illusion of depth.

Wildflower Bouquet is an example of the genre at its finest. Executed in 1987, this work is unique: with its striking size and clean, hard lines, it is an arresting piece arising at the peak of Wesselmann’s experimentation when the laser-cut technology of the time had finally caught up with his artistic vision, and after 1986 when he had begun to incorporate three-dimensionality. For something carved into metal, there is an extraordinary delicacy to Wildflower Bouquet: its lines are deliberate, but full of lightness – its poise and composition fixed as a still life must be, but retaining the fluidity of disarray suggested by the bouquet’s ‘artless’ wildflower make up. Thin April-green stems slip off into leaves and support heavy-petaled flower heads; textures and scents – woody, florid, herbaceous, spiny, tight, tender – overlay one another and contract into the neck of the vase. The spontaneity of impression is the crux of the piece, and is an effect created by Wesselmann’s incorporation of the gallery wall as his canvas. To have the white background of the wall as the negative space within the work gives the piece a sketched freshness vital to its aesthetic dynamism. As Wesselmann observed, ‘It was as if you could take a drawing, pick it up by the lines, pull it off the paper and walk away with it’ (the artist interviewed by Sam Hunter, 1990, in Tom Wesselmann: Recent Still Lifes and Landscapes, New York, 1991, n.p.).

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