Pop Figures: Mel Ramos and Tom Wesselmann

March 26, 2020 – April 30, 2021
Palm Desert, CA


This virtual exhibition explores the intersection of Pop Art and the human figure. This online exclusive show pulls from our extensive collection to highlight Mel Ramos and Tom Wesselmann. Each artist brings new insight to the role of the body within art history and by juxtaposing their artworks, we can appreciate their unique approach. This exhibition asks us to consider the relationship between the ideas of Pop Art and the role of the human body within that movement.

In stark contrast to Abstract Expressionism that became dominant in the 1960s, the Pop Art movement including Ramos and Wesselmann offered a sunnier if no less thoughtful alternative.

This exhibition focuses on Ramos’s paintings of female nudes juxtaposed with commercial totems. Ramos pairs sensuous bodies with iconic brands such as Coca-Cola or Del Monte, appropriating and recontextualizing advertisement within American society. Like his friend Roy Lichtenstein, Ramos tapped into the experience of the proliferation of commercial images by providing an interpretation of this optical abundance.

Not just referencing cultural touchstones, Ramos incorporated references to classical nudes. However, Ramos composited the figures in the paintings, choosing the best from a variety of models. Thus, we are confronted with visual and savory fantasies.

Like Ramos, Tom Wesselmann’s work references the classical nudes of art history which he then juxtaposed with modern objects. They both even update the nude for contemporary audiences, one example being the use of bikini tan lines. Where Ramos brings a realism to his figures, Wesselmann provides a vibrant graphic style. This push to abstraction creates an even bolder connection between the visual and commercial consumption.

Over his long career, Wesselmann utilized a vast array of media and material to express his artistic vision – assemblage, shaped canvases, cut metal figures, and more. This exhibition highlights a few of these. This proliferation of media asks us to consider “surface” – the surface of the art object but also the metaphor of surface in terms of art and portraiture. Wesselmann and Ramos offer works that exemplified and pushed Pop’s obsession with surface – of society, of commercialism, of mainstream pop culture, and of the materiality of an art object. The portraits by Wesselmann and Ramos walk this tension, transforming figures into pop cultural icons.