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I am a Denver-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Beyond Pop Art: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum

Still Life with Liz

Still Life with Liz

This past weekend I stopped into the Denver Art Museum to see Beyond Pop Art: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective, which is a special exhibition included in the price of admission. But why should I want to see his work? Who exactly is Tom Wesselmann? The best artist I never heard of, that’s who.

Tom Wesselmann, a contemporary of the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Clyfford Still, was a pop artist whose work I saw this weekend impressed me more than the well-known names I mention. Brillo Boxes? Keep ’em. Soup cans? No way. What about comic book-style paintings? Sure they’re nice, but Wasselmann beats ’em just as he runs even with Still’s stunning abstract works.

Still Life #35

Still Life #35

While Wesselmann has created several series – like one on smoking – a lot of his work is of nudes. So if boobies and other girl parts offend you, stop reading now. Otherwise, carry on and admire some of the finest art I’ve seen in any museum. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though.

Now that those who are offended by boobies are gone, here are some of the nudes he’s done:

Monica Sitting with Mondraian (Vairation 4)

Monica Sitting with Mondraian (Vairation 4)

Great American Nude #53, 1964

Great American Nude #53, 1964

Great American Nude #1

Great American Nude #1

While I found them interesting, it wasn’t his best work. The most impressive of Wesselmann’s art, at least for me, was that of his 3D paintings. I call them paintings because that is what they look like to me more than a sculpture. But they are that, too, projecting from the canvas sometimes as much as a foot. This example doesn’t do it justice, but it’s a good one nonetheless:

Screen Star

Screen Star

Both of these – the nudes and the 3D work – are mixed in with still life, which was a popular style of art at the time, as you may already know if you’ve seen any of Warhol’s work. Wesselmann’s style included a variety of items that he would often sketch before painting or creating as a sculpture. Sometimes the sculptures were huge, too. For instance, the sunglasses in this one are probably five feet tall:

Still Life #60

Still Life #60

I mentioned the smoking series earlier. A dozen or so pieces filled one of the rooms of the exhibition. They were based on photographs Wasselmann took of several of his nude models smoking:

Smoker, 1 (Mouth, 12)

Smoker, 1 (Mouth, 12)

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wesselmann passed away at the age of 73 in 2004 in New York City. He didn’t care to be labeled as a pop artist:

I dislike labels in general and ‘Pop’ in particular, especially because it overemphasizes the material used. There does seem to be a tendency to use similar materials and images, but the different ways they are used denies any kind of group intention.

Nonetheless, Wesselmann left behind some of the best work of the age, credited with creating hundreds of pieces. Dozens of them, easily a fine sampling of his work, are on display at the Denver Art Museum through mid September, 2014.

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One Comment on “Beyond Pop Art: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum”

  1. Traveling Ted (@travelingted) July 27, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Great post. Never heard of him, so thank you for bringing his work to my attention. I wonder if there are any special exhibits on display in his hometown of Cincinnati as I am only a short drive away from there.

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