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Tom Wesselmann's Pop art makes a statement at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Tom Wesselmann, Still Life No. 35, 1963. Oil and collage on canvas, 304.80 x 487.68 cm. The Estate of Tom Wesselmann, New York© Estate of Tom Wesselmann/SODRAC, Montreal/VAGA, New York (2012). Photo: Jeffrey Sturges.
RICHMOND, VA.- American artist Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004) is one of the leading figures in the American Pop Art movement with a career spanning more than four decades. Opened April 6, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts offers the first comprehensive North American retrospective of Wesselmann’s work. VMFA is the only East Coast venue for this exhibition.

Wesselmann and his contemporaries – Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist – forged the Pop Art movement by creating large scale, dynamic compositions, experimenting with new media, and using images from everyday popular culture. Humor, sensuality, and innovation were common elements of the Pop Art movement.

Made famous by his Great American Nudes, Wesselmann reinterpreted the history of art and past definitions of beauty, seeking to canonize a new American beauty in bold color. Wesselmann continued to reinvent himself and produce highly original work long after the Pop Art movement peaked.

The exhibition features additional works from the artist’s most significant series, including his earliest metal pieces using laser steel-cutting, abstract collages, and innovative still lifes. Some of the objects included in the exhibition have never before been publicly exhibited. VMFA’s permanent collection already includes two major Wesselmann paintings.

“The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has never hosted such a large scale exhibition of Pop Art,” Director Alex Nyerges said. “Some of Wesselmann’s works are massive, and our 12,000 square foot special exhibition galleries will perfectly showcase this important retrospective. Virginians are very familiar with this movement because of our rich Sydney and Frances Lewis Collection of mid to late 20th century art.”

Nathalie Bondil, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ director and chief curator said, “This retrospective demonstrates that Tom Wesselmann’s work should not be viewed with a ‘literal’ focus but rather a ‘literary’ one – to paraphrase the artist. Like others of the Pop generation, he thought of his art as a re-reading of art history. His complex way of playing with the intensity of his images, making them jostle with each other, reveals the great intellectual effort that went into their making. The obsessive concern with contrast is an interesting aspect of his oeuvre, as he plays with the ambiguity of the subject to emphasize the form and vice versa.”

Organized chronologically, the exhibition follows the development of Wesselmann’s work, series by series, from the earliest abstract collages to the Great American Nudes and still lifes of his Pop period, to the cut-steel drawings and Sunset Nudes of his late work. The exhibition will also investigate the ways in which the works of Titian, Goya, Manet and, most importantly, Matisse, inspired Wesselmann in his exploration of beauty, history, and popular culture.





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