Tom Wesselmann and Sam Francis Among American Masters at Art Southampton

The sleek, sensual females that so often take the fore in Tom Wesselmann’s Liquitex paintings are well-suited to the context of the Hamptons. This week, at the international modern and contemporary art fair Art Southampton, Birnam Wood / Galleries—which maintains outposts in Chelsea and East Hampton—brings a fantastic work by Wesselmann, in addition to paintings by prominent American Postwar masters.

Wesselmann’s Study for Vivienne (Line) (1985) is a classic example of the Pop artist’s nudes—and his ability to create bold, erotic expressions through few marks and strategic use of color. While early on, Wesselmann’s nudes were frequently compared to works by Matisse, he resisted this comparison. Rather than drawing influence from his forebears, his practice rested upon what he described as “making oversimplified curves to make the negative shape break away more easily from the nude.” This particular work, a study for the Vivienne motif that the artist realized in several works, is on view to the public for the first time since 1985, when it was included in a solo show. The use of the same colors in the subject’s full lips and conspicuous nipples is an iconic Wesselmann device.

Another preparatory work for an iconic painting featured in the booth is Larry RiversConfederate Soldier (1960). This small oil work is a study for a major painting of the same name, featuring brusque brushstrokes and remnants of a confederate flag, exemplifying the artist’s tendency to blend abstraction and figuration. Nearby is a silkscreen by fellow American Sam Francis, rendered according to the artist’s unique brand of Abstract Expressionism and featuring a stark white surface with vibrant splashes of color. This work, from 1972, is an iconic specimen, with layers of color, blotted in a spectrum of hues,  combined with a frenzy of dots and splashed that combine to form a fresh, dynamic composition.

The booth is rounded off with other modern masters, including Robert Rauschenberg and contemporary artist Maya Freelon Asante. Works on view by Asante—once described by Maya Angelou as “visualizing the truth about the vulnerability and power of the human being”—serve as contemplations on African American experience, visualized in color monotypes that appropriate vintage photographs. A microcosm of the fair itself, Birnam Wood’s booth brings a refreshing and rich selection of modern and contemporary art, which will be sure to delight the Art Southampton audience.

Visit Birnam Wood / Galleries at Art Southampton 2014, Booth AS54, July 24th–29th.

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