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American major: rare survey of H.C. Westermann’s post-war works on show

November 3, 2015

Venus Over Manhattan’s exhibition presents personal letters of the artist’s alongside a collection of 100 sculptures and works on paper. Pictured: ’Texas Cactus’, 1979-80, douglas fir, plywood, sugar pine, enamel, masonite, sapling

Gallery owner Adam Lindemann was friends with the sons of Allan Frumkin, Westermann’s longtime dealer, and was able to access 20 illustrated letters sent from Westermann to Frumkin during a road trip in America. Pictured: ’Death Ship Runover by a ’66 Lincoln Continental’, 1966, pine, plate glass, ebony, US dollar bills, putty, brass, ink

The artist H.C. Westermann, who fought in two world wars, was a master carpenter, a student at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, and worked for a time as an acrobat, amongst other things

‘See America First’ is a major presentation of H.C. Westermann’s work. The last retrospective of the artist was organised at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1978

‘See America First’ is a major presentation of H.C. Westermann’s work, in the artist’s native city. Pictured: ’Swingin’ Red King’, 1961, pine, pine moulding, plywood, enamel

The American printmaker and sculptor H.C. Westermann is the subject of a rare survey that’s being presented at Venus Over Manhattan this week

American major: rare survey of H.C. Westermann’s post-war works on show

By Charlotte Jansen 

What does America look like? It depends on your perspective. The printmaker and sculptor H.C. Westermann fought in two wars, was a master carpenter, a student at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, and worked for a time as an acrobat. His unique outlook pervades his work’s indefinable style and distinctive obsidian humour. Westermann inspired the next generation of American underground artists, including the Bay Area’s 'funk art' scene and legendary Chicago Imagists Hairy Who — but since a 1978 retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York, there hasn’t been an ambitious attempt to survey his work. Opening at Venus Over Manhattan in New York this week, ‘See America First’ is a major presentation of H.C. Westermann’s work.

‘I have spent months studying the work and now I have become a total fanatic geek on both the artist, the man and his work. He made very little work — about 350 pieces of significance in the catalog raisonneé,' says gallery owner Adam Lindemann, who curated the show. Lindemann was friends with the sons of Allan Frumkin, Westermann’s longtime dealer, and came into contact with Westermann’s work at their house as a child.

It’s through this personal connection that Lindemann was able to access 20 illustrated letters sent from Westermann to Frumkin during a road trip in America. Lindemann says, 'These letters are full of wild drawings and fantasies, they are just amazing.' The 

letters will be presented alongside a collection of nearly 80 sculptures and works on paper.

While changing morals, militarism and materialism in pre and post-war US are themes in Westermann’s work, he also conveys a complex perspective of nationhood that is a concern as contemporary as ever.

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