Wesselmann, Tom

born: 1931, Cincinnati, Ohio
died: 17.12.2004, New York

Since the early 1960s Tom Wesselmann has been concerned with a prime aspect of American society, the sex and star cults disseminated by advertising and the visual media. By integrating existing photographs, reproductions, or actual objects in his works, the Pop artist expanded the easel painting into a three-dimensional configuration in space. Bathtub 3 combines a painted canvas with real bathroom furnish- ings: a wooden door with towel rod and towel, a light switch, a laundry basket, a bathmat and a red shower curtain. The latter recalls a stage curtain pulled aside to reveal the scene to the audience. This is a painted rendering of a woman standing in the shower and drying herself The figure embodies the slim, feminine prototype favored in advertising, but presented here in a cool, faceless version with an emphasis on sexual details. The emotionless character of the depiction corresponds to the clean, almost sterile atmosphere of the bathroom, which implies a sacrifice of human factors to hygiene and brashly impersonal interior decoration. The image may be a slice of life, but it is a life of inanimate objects rather than of human individuals. The world of advertising clichés also appears in Wesselmann's Landscape 

No. 2 of 1964. The practically full-size billboard picture of the Volkswagen and the tree built up of mastic overwhelm the landscape proper and the miniaturized family in the background. Artifice takes precedence over nature. The iconography of contemporary advertising is even more clearly quoted in GreatAmerican Nude 

No. 98, of 1967. This outsized still life is arranged in three superimposed (evels. H. Roosen detects multiple meanings in the work: firstly, a reference to the American consumer goods industry (filter cigarette, Sunkist orange, Kleenex tissues - familiar set-pieces with which one automatically associates certain brand names). Secondly, the subliminal desires awakened by advertis- ing, as in the burning cigarette as an incitement to enjoy the pleasures of smoking. Thirdly, an evocation of physical desire, by the depiction of the woman with a half open mouth and swollen nipple, a standard iconographica) motif In this context the Kleenex box, the burning cigarette as a secularized memento mor; and the orange, which often appeared in medieval art as a symbol of the Fall from Grate and of fertility, take on additional meanings. "If we see these pictures of Wesselmann's as a travesty of the original sin motif, the temptation of Eve," Roosen adds, "the now `natural fruit' from the Tree of Knowledge takes on life-giving powers Except these powers are just as little 'innocent' in the heathen sense as the swelling breasts are metaphors of fertility; the enjoyment of the orange implies the use of the Kleenex, which in turn finds a correpondence in the cigarette filter."