Favoring frankly sexual subjects, Tom Wesselmann made his mark on the Pop Art scene with his infamous series of the Great American Nude started in 1961. In these works, the nude becomes a de-personalised sex symbol set in a realistically depicted commonplace environment. Great American Nude, 1966, could be considered to be one of the most iconoclastic images of this extensive series, perhaps the definitive message of eroticism devalued by consumerism.
Subverting the traditional relationship between scale and eroticism that has existed within the iconography of the history of art, Wesselmann succeeds in taking an historically intimate and personal icon and turns it into the ultimate object of consumerist desire. By effectively zooming in on one of his earlier full body nudes, placing the most overtly sexual body parts in such close proximity to the viewer, Wesselmann successfully makes this work more brutal and visually compelling. While previous works in the series included full body nudes with shaved pubic areas, the focus on the bright red lips straight from the front cover of Cosmopolitan magazine in Great American Nude endowed this work with an equivalent erotic charge in the eyes of the artist for he felt that 'a shaved vagina had the same vividness and immediacy as a strong red' (S. Stealingworth, Wesselmann, New York, 1980, p.23). The artist's exaggerated focus on the slightly-parted bright red lips coupled with the silhouette of an erect nipple exudes a blatantly sexual sensuality as if caught in a moment of ecstasy.
According to Stealingworth, the artist obliterated or simply left off other details of the faces for they were not intended to be portraits in any sense. Yet the only features included were those essential to erotic simplification like lips and nipples and any intonation of personality would interfere with the forthrightness of the fact of the nude. These figures, which were by default only a presence, were the perfect recipients for the uncontested male gaze. Eyes were excluded for otherwise they would threat or thwart the viewer. These faceless, and therefore anonymous, nudes remain the ultimate object of desire, unable to challenge the definitive assertion of male dominance, the male gaze.
The collage element of the simply drawn lines, and the flat, unmodulated color of these works would seem to strip the image of any overt sexual content. However, despite the cartoon-like effect, Great American Nude remains aggressive and impersonal, yet instantaneously alluring and inviting to the viewer; like any other advertisement for a product in consumerist '60s America - bold and crude, yet effective and ultimately seductive.