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Wesselmann, Tom

American, 1931 - 2004


Pop artist Tom Wesselmann is best known for creating slick and erotic depictions of the female nude. After receiving an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Cincinnati, where he was born, Wesselmann attended the Art Academy there. In the late 1950s he went to New York City to continue his art studies at Cooper Union. Initially working in the prevalent abstract expressionist style, he shifted his approach and began assembling collages of objects and images from everyday life. He often painted on top or underneath the collage materials, creating ambiguous relationships between the forms he made and those he appropriated from the everyday environment. Like Andy Warhol, Wesselmann wanted to explore the banal elements of consumer culture. Domestic American interiors became the settings for his works, which increasingly focused on female nudes enlarged, hyper-sanitized, and above all, objectified.

By the mid-1960s, Wesselmann's Great American Nude series had achieved notoriety. The flat colors, clean lines, and bold yet anonymous presentations of the figure, isolating and repeating female sexual organs, allude to contemporary advertising and its promotion of sex. With the advent of the women's liberation movement, Wesselman's portrayals of female bodies became increasingly unpopular. His most recent works (1994-1996) are cut-out aluminum wall pieces in which layered steel, saturated colors, and broad brushstrokes express Wesselmann's sensuousness.

[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]

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