Tom Wesselmann Collages 1959-1964 David Zwirner 29 January – 24 March 2016
Tom Wesselmann is principally known for his large pop art paintings, but this exhibition focuses on his earlier work, predominantly very small scale collages which were made while Wesselmann was at college at Cooper Union, and shortly after.
Wesselmann was exploring figurative subject matter and pictorial space using a variety of found materials such as magazine cuttings, wrapping paper, wallpaper, dried leaves, postcards and fabric. Combining these elements with his sketchy, drawn or torn figures, the works have a certain naivety, whilst also referencing Henri Matisse, Edgas Degas and Wassily Kandinsky in their compositions. They allude to the Old Masters with their still life arrangements such as the fruit bowl or vase of flowers. The use of many patterns together also brings to mind the ornate work of historical paintings. Though often roughly constructed and experimental, the juxtaposition of patterns, bold colours and simple forms is effective and captivating. The intimate scale of the work, the detail and humorous touches (such as a portrait of the Mona Lisa in the background or in another George Washington) draw the viewer in close to investigate the domestic interiors.
The exhibition is divided into three parts, the Portrait Collages, the Nudes and in the upstairs gallery a few of his larger-scale works that were created following on from the smaller collages. The beginning of the influence of the consumer culture can be seen in the small collages, but they have sensitivity and you can feel the touch of the artist, unlike in his later works.