The Little American Nudes

Tom Wesselmann at the University Art Museum, CSULB

 In 1961, Matisse’s Blue Nude occupied the artist’s attentions. In 1962, there was collage in the more classical sense of the Cubists, but with a still more rounded American outlook. In 1963, the Pop collage and a type of Manet’s Olympia are sketched out. In 1964, a sculptural assemblage organizes space. In the same year, the architecture of The Great American Nude is established, a clean abstraction of the fulminating lines and tones that are the hallmark of the oeuvre. By 1967, the work is stated in definitive terms. Study for Bedroom Painting #1 models a breast in three parts like a tower of rotundities, the semi-circular base and areola, the nipple a spire. Behind this, blue Venetian blinds. Next to them roses and an orange.

Not merely an homage to Matisse but a characteristic way of working in refinement made visibly formal. Through the 1980’s, cut-outs and maquettes isolate line as color, or brushstroke as both. In the 1990’s, a new surge of abstraction reconsiders Matisse’s Dance (1909-10) in color modulations akin to Riley, and thence metamorphoses (after the manner of Lichtenstein, one might almost say) through Chamberlain (via Kandinsky) toward Mondrian (Manhattan Beauty, 2000). Or so it seems, considering this graduated exhibition of studies from the artist’s personal collection.

All of this goes into the more recent nudes, a fabulous composition of brickwork titanesses limned in starry outlines surrounded by the appurtenances of beauty.


By: Christopher Mulrooney

150 N. Catalina St., No. 2

Los Angeles, Calif. 90004


poems and translations in The Pacific Review, Janus Head, Brooklyn Review, Aesthetica, Frank, Poetry Salzburg Review, Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, etc.

criticism in The Film Journal, Small Press Review, etc.

author of notebook and sheaves


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