The Wildenstein Plattner Institute’s (WPI’s) Tom Wesselmann Oral History Series accompanies its forthcoming Tom Wesselmann Digital Catalogue Raisonné. It explores the artist’s life and work in full, from his working process to his scholarly and institutional reception, and from his connections with dealers, gallerists and collectors to his engagement with models, studio assistants and fabricators. The oral histories facilitate a deeper exploration of questions raised during the catalogue raisonné research process and beyond. Through semi-structured interviews between Huffa Frobes-Cross, WPI’s Tom Wesselmann Catalogue Raisonné Project Manager, and various notable interviewees with living memory of Wesselmann, these oral histories supplement our knowledge of Wesselmann and illuminate his work in exciting, provocative new ways.
Allan Rubin and Candy Spilner were studio assistants to Tom Wesselmann between the late 1970s and early 2000s. Both accomplished artists in their own careers separate from Wesselmann, the two met at Cooper Union in 1969 and have been a couple ever since. Their interview delves into many different aspects of labor in a studio setting: balancing one’s own creative aspirations with the necessities of financing them, fabricating work for another artist, the place of ego within art, and maintaining boundaries between one’s own artistic practice and their employer’s, among others. Highlights include descriptions of daily studio life in the 1980s, detailed accounts of working in the various mediums Wesselmann experimented with over the course of his career, and memories of traveling to accompany and install international Wesselmann exhibitions.
KEYWORDS: studio assistants, Great American Nudes, Cooper Union, Janis Gallery, Green Gallery, Standing Still Lifes, Monica Serra, Jeffrey Sturges, printmaking, laser cuts, three-dimensional sculpture, recordkeeping practices, ledger books, Ivan Karp, Jacques Kaplan
Peggy Steffans Sarno is an American actress and model known for her collaborations with her husband, Joseph Sarno, the “Ingmar Bergman of porn.” She counted Claire and Tom Wesselmann as close family friends, and participated as a portrait model in Tom’s Smoker series. Highlights of her oral history include memories of New York’s arts and cultural scene in the 1960s, discussions of Wesselmann’s oeuvre in the context of American social and sexual norms, and reflections on her personal connection to Wesselmann’s body of work today.
KEYWORDS: Pop Art, Cooper Union, nude portraiture, pornography, Claire Wesselmann, 20th-century American art, Mouth series, Smoker series, Joe Sarno, cinema, Polly Platt, artists’ models, artists’ muses, A Life in Dirty Movies
Constance “Connie” W. Glenn is an acclaimed art historian, curator, writer, and collector. She is the founding director of the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach, where she also established the Graduate Certificate Program in Museum Studies and taught courses in art history and museum studies. Since the 1960s, she has been an avid collector with a particular interest in Pop Art and the works of Tom Wesselmann. In her second oral history session with WPI, Glenn discusses her philosophy as a collector, her correspondence with Wesselmann on the difficulties of classifying works, and her observations of shifts in Wesselmann’s approach over the course of his career.
KEYWORDS: Pop Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Great American Nudes, California State University Long Beach, Wayne Thiebaud, Jonathan Borofsky, Ivan Karp, Jack Glenn Gallery, Sidney Janis Gallery, Leo Castelli, art criticism, Frank Stella, Paul Bianchini, Sunset Nudes, Abstract Expressionism
Carroll Janis is the son of acclaimed gallerist Sidney Janis. He helped organize many of the Janis Gallery’s most significant shows of the twentieth century, and took over management of the gallery after his father’s passing in 1989. He maintained close connections with many Pop artists, including Tom Wesselmann, Claes Oldenburg, and James Rosenquist. Highlights of the interview include discussions of the gallery’s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop, detailed descriptions of the Janis Gallery’s operations, and thoughts on the art historical legacy of Wesselmann.
KEYWORDS: modernism, Tom Wesselmann, Abstract Expressionism, art market, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, Arshile Gorky, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Pop Art, Sidney Janis Gallery, Green Gallery, New Realists, erotic art, Great American Nudes
Monica Serra is a painter, multimedia artist, and singer/songwriter. She collaborated with Tom Wesselmann as a model, then joined Wesselmann’s studio as a studio assistant and went on to become the studio manager. Since Wesselmann’s death in 2004, she has been an integral part of the Estate of Tom Wesselmann, continuing to preserve and advocate for the works and legacy of the artist. Monica’s oral history examines her close working relationship with Wesselmann, the experience of viewing herself in his works, and themes of gender and representation.
KEYWORDS: modeling, drawing, gender, studio practice, nude portraiture, Tom Wesselmann, Henri Matisse, metal sculptures, Candy Spilner, Allan Rubin, country music, songwriting, art criticism, Smoker series, Great American Nudes
Constance “Connie” W. Glenn is an acclaimed art historian, curator, writer, and collector. She is the founding director of the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach, where she also established the Graduate Certificate Program in Museum Studies and taught courses in art history and museum studies. Since the 1960s, she has been an avid collector with a particular interest in Pop Art and the works of Tom Wesselmann. Highlights of the interview include descriptions of the burgeoning Kansas City art scene in the 1960s, trends in Glenn’s history as an art collector, memories of her relationship with Tom and Claire Wesselmann, and thoughts on the unique and lasting nature of Wesselmann’s works.
KEYWORDS: Pop Art, Tom Wesselmann, 20th century art, modern art, Jack Glenn, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, California State University Long Beach, Claire Wesselmann, Andy Warhol, Merce Cunningham, Susan Buckwalter, Peter Brant, art collectors, art dealers, Ivan Karp, Leo Castelli, Sidney Janis, Art in America, Great American Nude, Postwar American art, Neo-avant-garde, Larry Rivers, Virginia Dwan, Dwan Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, John Weber, Ted Coe
Jeffrey Sturges is the current Director of Exhibitions for the Estate of Tom Wesselmann. He first worked as a studio assistant for Tom Wesselmann in the 1990s, taking time in between to explore the gallery world and his burgeoning interest in photography, and returned in 2004 just prior to after the artist’s death. Highlights of the interview include discussions of Sturges’ early experiences in Wesselmann’s studio and his first encounters with Wesselmann’s art, the transition from a working studio to an estate, stylistic and symbolic interpretations of Wesselmann’s work, and the unique nature of Wesselmann’s record keeping and titling practices.
KEYWORDS: 20th century art, abstract expressionism, art critiques, artists’ estates, artists’ studios, assemblage, Claire Wesselmann, collage, dimensionality, exhibitions, Great American Nude, Green Gallery, modern art, Pop Art, retrospectives, Robert Rauschenberg, Sidney Janis Gallery, Still Life series, Tom Wesselmann