Tom Wesselmann: Power Pop
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal May 19 to Oct 7 2012
POSTED: JULY 19, 2012
One of the unsung heroes of the American Pop movement gets his moment in the sun this summer in the long-overdue Tom Wesselmann retrospective “Beyond Pop Art” now on view at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. Born in Cincinnati in 1931, Wesselmann is rightly famous for his Great American Nude and Still Life series of the 1960s; they stand alongside seminal Pop Art by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. In comparison, however, Wesselmann staked out a raunchier corner of postwar American culture. Like theirs, his paintings celebrate colour, product placement and sex but in Wesselmann’s case the sex is uppercase—SEX.
Clearly a fan of Matisse and Picasso and the graphic punch of early Modernism, Wesselmann, like James Rosenquist, drew inspiration from Times Square and its billboards, but also from the seamier street-level peep-show side too. Wesselmann’s penchant for painting sultry open mouths, lacquered lips and hard nipples declared a juvenile sexist slant that put him on the wrong side of progressive cultural politics but there is no denying the sheer physical energy and vibrancy of his art.
With more than 180 works, the Montreal show covers all aspects of Wesselmann’s career and lays them out in chronological order, from his earliest collages to the late Sunset Nude series. Equal to Claes Oldenburg as a draughtsman, one of the show’s highlights is the inclusion of drawings and studies that glory in Wesselmann’s unabashed, sure-handed style. His Steel Drawings of the 1980s are innovative laser-cut marvels that provide reason enough to see the show. We also learn that Wesselmann was a country music fan and that when he wasn’t painting, he was writing songs. One of them, “I Love Doing Texas with You,” is included on the Brokeback Mountain film soundtrack.
When all is said and done in this extensive exhibition, chalk up one more impressive Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal exploration of the legacies of 1960s. Here’s a museum laying curatorial claim to a decade.