Linda Norden

John Wesley, Dream of Frogs, 1965, acrylic on canvas, 37 x 58".

JOHN WESLEY MUST MEASURE well over six feet. Yet at the opening of the monumental retrospective orchestrated by Germano Celant for the Fondazione Prada, in the vast Venetian halls of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Wesley’s imposing silhouette was obscured by hundreds of well-wishers. This was not a typical event for an artist long treated as an outsider, an exception to all the art world’s rules.

Indeed, ever since 1963, when Donald Judd threw up his hands in happy despair and proclaimed Wesley’s art “interesting” but essentially uncategorizable—“what some bumpkin made of appearances for some unartistic reason”—critics have worked to fill in the blanks, taking stabs at descriptive language that might account for the unspeakable contents of Wesley’s paintings. His art, as others have expressed in one way or another, is hilarious and heartbreaking, looks like nothing else

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