los-angeles

Tom Wesselmann

Newport Harbor Art Museum

Tom Wesselmann always seemed to me the least of the “core” group of Pop artists because his work is essentially a Beaux-arts product with a Pop image. Although the exhibition at NHAM does fill in a gap in Southern California’s direct knowledge of New York Pop, and although it concentrates admirably on the “early still lifes, 1962–64,” that initial suspicion isn’t dispelled. Perhaps it’s because Wesselmann, more than the others, is propelled by the impetus of the original Pop sensibility: the seizing of lower echelon sign-painter techniques and the automatic enigma of kitsch inventory as a way out of the cul-de-sac created by Abstract Expressionism. By now, though, it’s hard to feel the crisis which threw Wesselmann into Pop. In 1960, according to Tom Garver’s catalog essay, Wesselmann set himself the following goals, among others: keeping the picture plane in front of the canvas, tying

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