- Tom Wesselmann
- Still Life #16
- signed and dated 1962; signed, titled and dated 62 on the reverse
- enamel and polymer on masonite with fabric and printed paper collage
Private Collection, Connecticut
Christie's, New York, May 13, 1981, lot 53
Phillip Johnson, New York
Gift to the present owner from the above in December 1984
Des Moines Art Center, Sign of the Times, December 1963 - January 1964
Houston, Rice Museum, extended loan, 1985-1986
Houston, The Menil Collection, Pop Art: US/UK Connections 1956-66, January - May 2001, pl. 15, p. 141, illustrated in color
Tom Wesselmann's place in the canon of American Pop Art was established without question by his famous series of Still Lifes from 1962 to 1964 and Great American Nudes from 1959 to the late 1960s. Like many of his fellow Pop artists, Wesselmann was often uncomfortable with the label and the rigid parameters set for Pop Art by some art critics and the public. He noted that "They begin to sound like some nostalgia cult - they really worship Marilyn Monroe and Coca Cola. The importance people attach to things an artist uses is irrelevant...I use a billboard picture because it is real, special representations of something, not because it is from a billboard. Advertising images excite me mainly because of what I can make from them" (Lucy R. Lippard, Pop Art, London, 1966, p. 80).
With the early classic works such as Still Life #16 from 1962, Wesselmann used the commercial advertising images in a direct way, juxtaposing his own painted passages with the collaged elements composed within a shallow space. As the complexity of his constructions grew, Wesselmann acknowledged that his "colors became flatter, cleaner brighter; edges became harder, clearer...This way, by becoming static and somewhat anonymous, they also became more charged with energy" (John Rublowsky, Pop Art, New York, 1965, p. 137).
Arranging his compositions without a central image or focus, Wesselmann masterfully distributed the still life objects equally across the surface of the picture. What personal feelings he may have harbored toward the objects depicted was less important than how he composed the disparate objects into a cohesive whole. The red velvet half-round form in Still Life No. 16 was a reference to a chair back in his kitchen from his hometown of Cincinnati which he would use often in his still lifes, but it was not privileged over other more generalized references. Instead, the precision of his composition of the collage images of the two 7-Up bottles, the can of Libby's fruit cocktail (which every American "baby boomer" can clearly identify with), the vase of red roses, the glimpse of a coastal landscape, and the cigar lying on the table made of textured fabric represent American Pop Art in its purest form.