Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pop Goes the Afternoon

It was killing me that I hadn't seen Pop Art Tom.

Despite having written up the VMFA's new exhibition of Tom Wesselmann for Style, I'd been out of town for the opening and busy ever since.

And, no, I did not want to go on a Thursday or Friday night (at least for the first time) and battle the crowds.

So I slid in on an innocuous afternoon and, for the most part, my art-loving companion and I had the galleries to ourselves.

It was delicious.

We lingered over the early collages with their bits of wallpaper and fabric, promising so much potential.

I admired "Judy Trimming Toenails," with her wide-brimmed red hat, the perfect accessory for toenail trimming.

Then it was the Great American Nude series, with red, white and blue color schemes and portraits of presidents hanging over the reclining nudes.

We moved on to the addition of products- RC Cola, Beefeater Gin, Lipton tea and 7-Up ("You like it, It likes you") populating the canvases.

Seeing the "Still Life" series, I couldn't help but notice that the radios Wesselmann used were just like the yellow plastic one my mother kept on the kitchen counter when I was young.

And "Landscape No. 5" of a red Volkswagen took me back to the car I learned to drive on (or, more accurately, learned to pop the clutch on when parked on a hill) all those years ago.

Then we hit the shaped canvasses - mouths smoking, breasts at the beach, hands holding cigarettes- and things started getting big.

But the drop-dead delight of the show was the steel drawings, the pieces that required Wesselmann to help develop the technology so that he could render his drawings in 3-D.

Sure, I'd seen pictures of them, but until you see one of his colorful and articulate steel pieces, there's no way to fully appreciate a three dimensional drawing.

Or the fact that he even conceived of such a thing back in the '80s.

"Quick Sketch from the Train (Italy)" conveyed in a few green and brown lines the passing countryside of a country I'd just experienced last fall.

"Monica Sitting with Mondrian" combined his love of the nude with his ongoing acknowledgement of art history and his place in it.

The "Sunset Nude" series that closes the show continued the opulent colors from earlier series with a sure-handed maturity that signaled the end of the artist's life.

It's funny, a friend who'd already seen the show had told me she hadn't liked it because it was too modern, the colors too garish.

Now that I've seen the show, I'd have a crushing reply to her claim.

Go stand in front of "Friday Nude Drawing," as much for the beautifully simple line that makes up a nude reclining as for the title.

I'd be the first to agree with Wesselmann that a Friday drawing is not the same as a Tuesday drawing.

As the Cure said, "Monday, you can fall apart, Tuesday, Wednesday, break my heart, Thursday doesn't even start, It's Friday I'm in love."

A Friday nude drawing can take your breath away, without anything modern or garish to confuse your eye.

Even on a Wednesday afternoon.

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