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H.C. Westermann is the first posthumous retrospective of American sculptor H.C. Westermann and will present a comprehensive survey of the artist's innovative sculptural work from the early 1950s through 1981, the year of his death. The exhibition features approximately 100 sculptures and 20 works on paper and incorporates works never seen before in public, including 11 of the artist's sketchbooks and several works made as gifts for family and friends. H.C. Westermann is on view through September 8, 2002.at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) at The Geffen Contemporary (152 North Central Avenue in downtown Los Angeles).
H.C. Westermann is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA), and co-curated by MCA curator Lynne Warren and MCA assistant curator Michael Rooks. The exhibition traces the artist's nearly thirty-year career encompassing sculptures that combine assemblage and traditional construction techniques used in carpentry and woodworking, often confronting the social and political realities of the era. MOCA's presentation is coordinated by MOCA curatorial assistant Julia Langlotz. (left: Death Ship of No Port, 1957, pine, bronze, metal wire, fabric, and paint, Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago)
"It is especially meaningful that Westermann's posthumous retrospective will travel to his hometown, Los Angeles, a place forever inhabited by his imagination. It was here that the notion of integrity was instilled in him, and where he later encountered a younger generation of like-minded artists such as Ed Ruscha, Ken Price, and Billy Al Bengston," said Michael Rooks.
MOCA's installation is specially designed by Los Angeles-based artist Billy Al Bengston, who emerged as a leading figure in the 1960s L.A. art scene, and was a friend and longtime admirer of Westermann. Bengston has worked on the cutting edge of experimental painting over the last four decades. Both reflecting nature and challenging ideas of perception, his work is always adventuresome. The installation pairs Westermann's accomplished, imaginative sculptures and drawings with Bengston's sensitive and inventive treatment of light, color, and space.
"H.C. was a dazzling original who impacted, influenced, and kept us enthralled and on our toes awaiting anything--sculpture, painting, drawing, letters, etc. Everything Cliff did was absolutely distinctive," said Billy Al Bengston.
Westermann's sculptures, made of materials such as plywood, galvanized metal, linoleum, and rare woods combine the unexpected juxtaposition of surrealism, expressionism and pop art, with a craft approach that he had developed as a carpenter. He often used humor to depict anxieties and powerlessness through visual combinations of contradictory characteristics and verbal and visual puns. (left: Swingin' Red King and Silver Queen, 1960-61, mixed media, Private collection, London)
The exhibition will feature a number of Westermann's tableaux contained in glass vitrines, full-size figurative sculptures, machine/tool inventions, boxes, and several haunting Death Ships which comprise a recurring motif throughout Westermann's career. Included will be his 1972 work 30 Dust Pans, first shown at Allan Frumkin Gallery, Chicago, the elements of which have been reunited for the exhibition.
Prior to MOCA's presentation, the exhibition was on view at the MCA, Chicago, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. Following Los Angeles, the exhibition will travel to the Menil Collection, Houston (October 4, 2002 - January 5, 2003).
H.C. Westermann is accompanied by two volumes published by Harry N. Abrams. The 212-page exhibition catalogue features essays by the exhibition co-curators Rooks and Warren as well as art historian Dennis Adrian and Museum of Modern Art senior curator Robert Storr. It features an extensive plate selection, illustrated chronology of the artist's life, exhibition checklist, lists of solo and group exhibitions, and complete bibliography. The 398-page catalogue raisonné, which subsumes the exhibition catalogue, documents for the first time all of the artist's known three-dimensional works. All major entries in the catalogue raisonné includes a discussion of the work, provenance, inscriptions, exhibition history, bibliography, and is accompanied by photographs.
About the artist
H.C. Westermann was born in Los Angeles, California, on December 11, 1922. He worked in logging camps as a rail worker in the Pacific Northwest and at the outbreak of WWII joined the U.S. Marine Corps serving as a gunner on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. After touring the Far East as an acrobat with the United States Organization (USO), he enrolled in The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 1947.
In 1950, Westermann re-enlisted in the Marines for service in the Korean War. After his discharge, he returned to SAIC and completed his studies in fine art. The psychological effects of his experiences during WWII, and later in Korea, became an underlying theme in his work, particularly in his Death Ships. In November 1968, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art organized his first retrospective exhibition, and the Whitney Museum of American Art organized his last retrospective in May 1978.
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