Roaming the Artist's Mind: Tom Wesselmann at Gagosian, Chelsea

Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes opened to the public on January 18th, at Gagosian Gallery’s 24th street location, and it is undoubtedly worth a visit…or two. For the first time in the artist’s exhibition history, Tom Wesselmann’s  series of works created between 1967 and 1981 are shown in a single show and a single location. The experience, to say the least, is quite immersive. With a little extra imagination, you could visualize being in an expanded version of the artist’s studio. “Expanded” because I surmise it is rather unlikely that Wesselmann would have had enough space in his studio to house all of these works at once. This thought alone renders seeing Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes as a bit of a privilege.

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“Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes”
Installation view at Gagosian West 24 Street, New York. Photo by author.

While the artist emphasized the importance of experiencing his monumental still lifes in frontal view because the sense of space is accentuated by the collage of canvases with which he created them, being able to physically roam around the works is a wonderful opportunity. If you, like me, are curious about the parts which make the whole, Gagosian’s spacious galleries allow glimpses of the rears of the standing, three-dimensional parts of the exhibited works that allow for further understanding of how they are synthesized into a whole. This is further informed by the smaller-scale maquettes shown beside some of the works. Then, when you have quenched some of your curiosity, and, finally, place yourself across from any one piece, you are exposed to the intensified sense of depth, and the scale of Wesselmann’s still lifes. One simple act of standing across from the work and you suddenly feel swallowed into a monumental painting that just keeps drawing you in. It is a mentally enticing viewing experience with the added pleasure caused by the simultaneous questioning of the definition of painting and space that the artist arises in your mind.
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“Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes”
Installation view at Gagosian West 24 Street, New York. Photo by author.

The entire exhibition, aside from allowing a thorough viewing of the series, seems to want to immerse you in the mind of the artist, and show you how he worked. The rear room of the exhibition certainly assists in this effect. After having walked around in the galleries where you can really take in the works one at a time, as well as in dialogue with each other, you reach a room from where voices are heard. This is where the curatorial team has exhibited a video rich in information about the works exhibited, the artist and his artistic process. Surrounding it are cases containing sketches and notes about each of the works, once created by the artist. Directly above these cases are mounted drawings and maquettes of the still life works. As a result, the exhibition allows you to immerse yourself in the artist’s thinking and planning process as well.
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“Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes”
View of one of the glass cases at Gagosian West 24 Street, New York. Photo by author.

Another exciting detail of this particular gallery is in the two i-pads, discretely placed between the screen and the first glass cases. Simply tapping on one of these allows you to look at even more of Wesselmann’s drawing studies, while you can also zoom in and observe every little detail. To really enjoy this, however, I recommend visiting (or re-visiting) the exhibition at a time that is most likely to be less populated, like a Friday or Saturday morning at opening time.

Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes is open through February 24th. It is yet another exhibition hosted by Gagosian of true art historical value and quality.
For additional information see:
Tom Wesselmann Estate
Gagosian Gallery Exhibition Page
Lauren Mahoney’s article in Gagosian Quarterly, Winter Issue

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