Tom Wesselmann “La Promesse du Bonheur” at NMNM–Villa Paloma, Monaco

Tom Wesselmann, Bedroom Painting #24, 1970
Photo NMNM/Jeffrey Sturges, 2018 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann, Licensed by VAGA, New York

 

Curated by Chris Sharp, and with the scientific coordination of Cristiano Raimondi, the exhibition Tom Wesselmann La Promesse du Bonheurfrom June 29th, 2018 to January 6th, 2019 at Villa Paloma in Monaco—features twenty-five works, from paintings to sculptures to drawings, realised within thirty years, from 1963 to 1993.

Taking its title from Stendhal’s celebrated claim that, “La beauté n’est que la promesse du bonheur” (Beauty is but the promise of happiness), this focused survey will be dedicated to a number of very specific aspects of Tom Wesselmann’s production. These aspects include Victorian and post-Victorian sexuality, questions of female agency, their relationship to postwar economic abundance, and of course, the relationship of beauty, as well as the erotic to anticipation.

Concentrating on the artist’s portrayal of woman, which has been known to draw fire for its purported objectification, this exhibition argues for a much more nuanced understanding of the Wesselmann’s rapport with the female subject. Indeed, with this survey, a certain sense of female agency will become apparent, which in itself is symptomatic of a crucial historical shift from Victorian repression to economic abundance associated with postwar American consumerism, as both described and quite literally embodied in Wesselmann’s work.

Long considered one of the key American Pop artists as well as one of its great formal innovators, Wesselmann’s specific critical contribution to the movement has been a source of debate for decades. This survey intends to clarify this debate, locating his prodigious and penetrating contribution in the taboo subject of sexuality, portrayals thereof, and its indissociable link to the boundless promise conveyed by the cultural, material and economic bounty of postwar American society.

The catalogue features essays by Chris Sharp and Sabrina Tarasoff. This exhibition receives the support of The Estate of Tom Wesselmann.

Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on February 23, 1931. He attended Hiram College in Ohio from 1949 to 1951 before entering the University of Cincinnati. In 1953 his studies were interrupted by a two-year enlistment in the army, during which time he began drawing cartoons. He returned to the university in 1954 and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1956; during this time he decided to pursue a career in cartooning and so enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. After graduation he moved to New York City, where he was accepted into the Cooper Union and where his focus shifted dramatically to fine art; he received his diploma in 1959.

Wesselmann became one of the leading American Pop artists of the 1960s, rejecting abstract expressionism in favor of the classical representations of the nude, still life, and landscape. He created collages and assemblages incorporating everyday objects and advertising ephemera in an effort to make images as powerful as the abstract expressionism he admired.

Wesselmann first came to the attention of the art world in the early 1960s with a series of works titled Great American Nude. Reinventing the classical nude, he explored the use of different materials such as pictures in magazines, discarded subway posters and advertising billboards. The larger paintings required larger collage elements, necessitating the use of commercially produced billboards acquired directly from advertisers. During this time, he began a new series of Still Lifes, continuing the use of collage and incorporating real objects like a clock, a radio, a fluorescent light fixture. In 1966 Great American Nude #82 – a painted molded Plexiglass wall relief – reimagines the nude in three dimensions.

Between 1969 and 1970 he focused on the Bedroom Painting series in which elements of the Great American Nude and Still Lifes were combined. With these works Wesselmann concentrated on details of the nude such as hands, feet, and breasts surrounded by flowers and intimate objects.

The motivation of the Bedroom Paintings was to increase the scale of the attendant objects around a nude; these objects are relatively small in relation to the body, but become major, even dominant elements when the central element is a body part. In the seventies, Wesselmann continued to explore the ideas and media which had preoccupied him during the Sixties. Most significantly, his large Standing Still Life series, composed of free standing shaped canvases, showed small intimate objects on a grand scale. In 1980 Wesselmann, using the pseudonym Slim Stealingworth, wrote an autobiography documenting the evolution of his artistic work. He continued exploring shaped canvases (first exhibited in the 1960s) and began creating his first works in metal. He instigated the development of a laser-cutting application, which would allow him to make a faithful translation of his drawings in cut-out metal. The 1990s and early 2000s saw the artist expanding on these themes, creating abstract three-dimensional images that he described as “going back to what I had desperately been aiming for in 1959”. He had indeed come full circle. In his final years he returned to the female form in his Sunset Nudes series of oil paintings on canvas, whose bold compositions, abstract imagery, and sanguine moods often recall the odalisques of Henri Matisse.

 

Tom Wesselmann, La Promesse du Bonheur
Photo NMNM/Jeffrey Sturges, 2018 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann, Licensed by VAGA, New York

 

Tom Wesselmann, Dropped Bra (Big Maquette), 1978-1980
Photo NMNM/Jeffrey Sturges, 2018 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann, Licensed by VAGA, New York

 

Tom Wesselmann, Great American Nude #82, 1966
Photo NMNM/Jeffrey Sturges, 2018 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann, Licensed by VAGA, New York

 

Tom Wesselmann, Bedroom Face with Lichtenstein (Artist’s Variation), 1988-92
Photo NMNM/Jeffrey Sturges, 2018 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann, Licensed by VAGA, New York

 

Tom Wesselmann, Big Study for Great American Nude #75, 1965
© The Estate of Tom Wesselmann. Licensed by VAGA, New York

 

Tom Wesselmann, Seascape #10, 1966
© The Estate of Tom Wesselmann. Licensed by VAGA, New York

 

Tom Wesselman, March 1962
© The Estate of Tom Wesselmann. Licensed by VAGA, New York

 

Tom Wesselmann
La Promesse du Bonheur
Curated by Chris Sharp with scientific coordination by Cristiano Raimondi
29 June 2018—06 January 2019

NMNM Villa Paloma | 56 boulevard du Jardin Exotique, Monaco
Opening hours: 10am–6pm
+377 98 98 48 60
www.nmnm.mc