Tom Wesselmann – Bedroom Breast

New York in the 1960’s was home to giants of artistic innovation. As Warhol and Lichtenstein came to define the Pop Art movement, Tom Wesselmann’s renowned “Great American Nude” series fused the commercial and the aesthetic. His supercharged colors mirror popular advertising while the lounging female forms allude to Western art history’s classic figurative motif. The hyper-sexualized presentation of the female body addresses the consumer culture of Post War America – the commoditization of the flesh.

With Bedroom Breast, Wesselmann isolates features of the female form alongside common objects, in keeping with another art historical tradition: the still life. In this vignette, a bare breast, a tube of lipstick, and a cigarette all receive the same abstracted treatment. The layered aluminum pieces physically distance the objects from each other, but the consistent vibrancy of flat color among the layers clashes with their apparent depth. Wesselmann reduces each element to its aesthetic utility, and the result is an elevated and compelling composition.

One of the final works that Wesselmann completed before his death in 2004, Bedroom Breast is the culmination of the artist’s ingenuity. It includes his most celebrated subject matter while remaining entirely unique. There are no other Wesselmann oil paintings on cut-out aluminum in 3-D. Envisioning this uncommon fabrication for many years, he pulled from two studies to create the final work: an early sketch from 1967 and a 2003 maquette. As the artist’s response to a society that conflates the sensual and the commercial, Bedroom Breast is a suitable finale to Wesselmann’s distinctive charged visuality.