Tom Wesselmann

Born 1931. Died 2004.
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Tom Wesselmann Biography

One of the earliest figures in American Pop art, Tom Wesselmann originally intended to become a cartoonist. Born in 1931 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wesselmann first studied psychology. Shortly after completing his degree at the University of Cincinatti, he relocated to New York City to study art at the Cooper Union. Wesselmann’s earliest works were small collages and assemblages, first utilizing discarded paper and old advertisements, then integrating found objects, such as utensils or even old television sets.

His first large-scale series, Great American Nude, begun in 1961, earned him the attention of the art world. Featuring aggressively sexualized and highly depersonalized female figures set in commonplace surroundings, the compositions focus on sensual details, such as women’s mouths, nipples, and genitalia. The series exemplifies Wesselmann’s place as one of the originators of American Pop art; the use of bright, undiluted colors and the impersonal, advertisement-like motifs are all hallmarks of the movement. His later Smoker series would employ many of the same techniques; on large-scale canvases shaped like mouths, and done in bright, primary colors, the mouths become cartoonish symbols of eroticism.

As Wesselmann progressed, he no longer constrained himself to the rectangular format canvas. Instead, he shaped and structured his canvases to correlate with his compositions; for example, his Still Life #57, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is not even constrained to a single canvas, but, instead, is made up of six irregularly shaped supports.

His works can be found in the collections of the Honolulu Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Albright-Know Art Gallery, Buffalo, and the Dallas Museum of Art. Given the popularity and demand for Pop art, market values have been generally optimistic; according to Sotheby’s Mei Moses the average compound annual return for Wesselmann is 9.4%, with 77.9% of works increasing in value.

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Artist Image: © 2018 Estate of Tom Wesselmann / VAGA, New York, NY