For its current exhibition in London, David Zwirner‘s Grafton Street gallery compiled a collection of thirty collages. created between 1959 and 1964, by the late Pop artist Tom Wesselmann, works that mark a significant point in the artist’s career as a leading figure of the Pop art movement, just at the point where he was transitioning from brusque abstraction to an interest in the commodity formats and spatial confines of the canvas. Wesselmann’s later career, which consists of bold, graphically vivid works is hinted at through these collages, exposing the growth of his iconic style, and his interest in capturing interiors, landscapes, and female nudes.
Collages became a medium of investigation for Wesselmann during his final year at Cooper Union, when he placed the historical avant-garde’s technique at the core of his practice for several years. The move allowed him to explore figurative and popular subject matter using a variety of media, and to contemplate the representational and graphic qualities which collage permitted. Employing found materials (postcards, wallpaper, and fabric), Wesselmann created several series of collages that mixed a figurative bent with subjective arrangements of space. He was able to combine different elements in order to relate to early modernist ideas, in conjunction with references to the historical works of Henri Matisse, and Wassily Kandinsky. Further into his collage practice, Wesselmann explored representations of contemporary life and consumer goods, a focus that eventually led him to his larger pieces and surrealist arrangements, devoid of their early roughshod qualities.
Wesselmann’s collages in this exhibition allude to the Old Masters and to the practice of the still life, as they repeat themselves throughout art history. These references also negotiate the context of his location in New York among the high point of Abstract Expressionism, giving way to nontraditional representation, color and form. His initial attempts at collage, as seen in this exhibition, reveal an extensive number of variables including eccentric patterns, juxtapositions, flattened forms, and bold color, all of which remained staples in his works throughout his career.
The exhibition ties these pieces quite well to the few large-scale, later canvases on view, showing the artist’s continued interest in the compositional considerations of vastly different subject matter, increasingly represented through realistic brushstrokes and the language of mass-market advertising. Additionally, works from Wesselmann’s series Little Great American Nudes are included in this exhibition. This critical body of work, which began in 1961, was the preliminary series that eventually led to his larger study of Great American Nudes, between 1961-1973. This series was one of the first to gain Wesselmann wide recognition, and which allowed his work to continue to develop its skewed take on American iconography.
Wesselmann’s exhibition at David Zwirner London until March 24th, 2016.
— A. Zlotowitz
Tom Wesselmann: Collages 1959-1964 [Exhibition Website]