The University of Chicagos Smart Museum of Art
presents Your Pal, Cliff: Selections from the H. C. Westermann Study Collection, a comprehensive new exhibition that offers fresh insight into the work and life of the postwar American artist H. C. (Cliff) Westermann (19221981). On view from April 2 to September 6, 2009, the exhibition brings to light for the first time the full scope of the Smart Museums Westermann holdingsone of the most significant public collections of artwork and ephemera related to this singular American artist.
In thematic displays that mix artworks with objects of a more archival nature, the exhibition details Westermanns working process and legendary sense of craft. Drawn entirely from the H. C. Westermann Study Collectionestablished at the Smart Museum through donations by the estate of Westermanns wife, the artist Joanna Beall Westermann, and enhanced by many gifts from the artists family and othersthe exhibition includes not only finished sculptures, drawings, and prints, but also gift objects, sketchbooks, printing blocks, tools, unfinished projects, and correspondence from Westermanns circle of artist-friends.
Your Pal, Cliff is the result of months of research by University of Chicago PhD candidates and exhibition curators Rachel Furnari and Michael Tymkiw. The exhibition will be accompanied by a rich array of public programs, highlighted by a lecture by renowned critic Robert Storr, and a gallery tour led by celebrated Chicago artists Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson.
Horace Clifford (H. C.) Westermann (19221981) created a meticulously crafted and highly personal body of work that has long resisted easy categorization within the standard histories of postwar American art. Westermann blended imagery born of profound personal experiencesespecially apparent in the Death Ship and other motifs related to his searing experiences in World War IIwith at times bawdy, absurd, or unsettling elements from contemporary American material culture. In addition, Westermann consistently used figuration and paid fastidious attention to the crafts of wood- and metalwork. This often placed him at odds with the emphasis on abstraction and the use of readymade or commercially fabricated materials that characterized dominant American art movements of his generation.
Drawing on formal artworks and largely unstudied ephemera, this exhibition examines Westermanns artistic practice, particularly his use of craft and the convergence of his life and art. The exhibition is divided into thematic sections that highlight several challenging aspects of Westermanns oeuvre: the recurring subjects and themes such as the Death Ship or the daredevil performer; the fluid boundary between artworks intended for public audiences and those that were more private, such as personal gifts and correspondence; and the far-reaching, distinctive facets of his craftsmanship. The exhibitions sections form a set of linked threads that illustrate connections across media, style, and time.
Horace Clifford Westermann, Jr. was born on December 11, 1922 in Los Angeles. He spent some time after high school in the northwest working for a logging company before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1942. During World War II, Westermann saw action in the Pacific as an antiaircraft gunner aboard the USS Enterprise. He was honorably discharged, toured with the USO as part of the hand-balancing act Wayne and Westermann, and in 1947 enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), studying graphic and applied arts. Before completing his studies, he re-enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in the Korean War. Back in Chicago, he completed his studiesthis time with a focus on paintingand graduated from SAIC in 1954. Westermann soon after turned to sculpture and began exhibiting with Allan Frumkin Gallery in Chicago. He married Joanna Beall in 1959his third marriageand moved to the Beall family estate in rural Brookfield Center, Connecticut. He built separate studios for his wife and himself on the estate, and lived and worked there for much of his mature period. Westermann died of a heart attack on November 3, 1981, soon after completing the construction of their new home.
Westermanns significance as a postwar American sculptor was acknowledged in his lifetime by solo museum exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1969), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1978), and the Serpentine Gallery in London (1980). His artistic legacy has since been examined by three posthumous retrospective exhibitions devoted to his sculptures (Museum of Contemporary Art, 2001), graphic oeuvre (Smart Museum of Art, 2001), and painted work (Contemporary Art Center in Honolulu, 2006). No previous project has drawn so extensively on the full range of artwork, archival material, and ephemera that comprise the Smart Museums study collection.
The H. C. Westermann Study Collection at the Smart Museum of Art is one of the most significant public collections of artwork and archival material related to Westermanns life and work. The collection was established in 2002 with the first of two major gifts from the estate of Westermanns wife, the artist Joanna Beall Westermann, and has been enhanced over the past decade by donations from the artists sister, Martha Renner, and other individuals closely associatedeither personally or professionallywith the artist, as well as several prominent collectors of Westermanns work. The collection continues to grow in both breadth and depth.
All together, the study collection includes nearly fifty sculptures and objects (both large gallery pieces and smaller, more personal objects given as gifts to his wife and others), many drawings and letter-drawings by the artist, all but two of the artists known prints, forty-five printing blocks, seventeen sketchbooks (dating from between 1952 and 1981), as well as an extraordinary mix of personal and professional correspondence (numbering over one thousand items), records, photographs, books and magazines, art making tools, unfinished sculptures, and other objects related to Westermanns life and art.
The study collection has a dedicated home in the Smart Museums contemporary galleries, where a rotating selection of Westermann material is permanently on view. The study collection is also a component of the Museums growing online database and is available for use by appointment to students, scholars, and individuals interested in Westermanns life and work.
Adjoining the exhibition in the Museums contemporary galleries will be a presentation of related works drawn from the Smart Museums permanent collection. Although Westermann resided for much of his professional life in Connecticut, he had deep personal and artistic connections to both California and Chicago. This installation features works by Robert Arneson and William T. Wiley as well as Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, and other so-called Chicago Imagists who regarded Westermann as a forerunner and model.