Wesselman exhibit is first of its kind

Denver show only two months long

”Screen Star” by Tom Wesselman, 1999-2003, is painted in oil on cut-out aluminum, 109x139x43 inches. It is included in the Wesselman exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.
“Still Life With Liz,” Tom Wesselman 1992, alkyd oil on cutout steel, 72x69 inches. It is included in the Tom Wesselman exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.
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“Beyond Pop Art: a Tom Wesselman Retrospective” is the first such comprehensive exhibit for American artist Tom Wesselman, and the Denver Art Museum exhibit offers viewers a chance to explore his processes, interests, influences and an ever-present sense of humor. His career spanned more than four decades and he was a leading figure in American Pop Art with Andy Warhol and others.

The exhibit, which will only be at the DAM until Sept. 14, contains about 100 works, including sketches, drawings, preliminary maquettes, archival documents … And then, there's “Still Life # 60,” which is more than 25 feet long and is a collection of shaped canvases, precisely painted. And “Screen Star,” which weighs more than 2,000 pounds and is created from cut-out aluminum with oil paint in brilliant colors.

Enter the gallery and one is welcomed by the large (120” x 96”), smiling “Great American Nude #53,” one of an extensive series that explored women in his world. Other series explorations: smokers, landscapes, still lifes. One still life, # 35, includes Royal Crown Cola, Wonder Bread, cereals and more. His articulate widow, Claire Wesselman, laughingly recalled how they lived in a tiny apartment, and he had it filled with food samples used in this and other paintings at one point.

She modeled for him at first, but said she got busy teaching and he had to hire other models. The paintings illustrate Wesselman's “great admiration for drawing,” Claire continued as she walked through the show during a press preview visit. “He loved to draw,” she repeated.

The couple met as students at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, according to a DAM publication. “From the beginning Claire was part of Wesselman's work and served as a model for a large share of his nudes. Her insights were instrumental for the exhibition …” He is remembered for his love of sharing stories about his work and processes. He is said to have been reluctant to be identified with the Pop Art movement and continued to reinvent himself.

He revisited masters such as Cezanne and Matisse, and some of his late work reflects their influence on landscapes and figural works. Those later works painted on metal required technological expertise.

The museum's notes about him add that a little-known facet was Wesselman's involvement in country music. He wrote more than 400 songs, including “I Love Doing Texas With You,” which was included on the soundtrack of “Brokeback Mountain.”

If you go

“Beyond Pop Art: a Tom Wesselman Retrospective” is at the Denver Art Museum through Sept. 14. Open Tuesdays through Sundays. General admission includes admission to this show. Denverartmuseum.org, 720-865-5000.