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

Gallery space, white walls and ceiling with lights, concrete floor and archway, floor standing wooden art pieces placed around the floor, additional room in view with display tables of wooden art pieces
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
(Image credit: Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan )

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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) in New York, there hasn’t been an ambitious attempt to survey his work. Opening at Venus Over Manhattan (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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 100 sculptures and works on paper.

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

Gallery space, white walls and ceiling with black frame spotlights, concrete floor and archway, display tables of wooden art pieces, small section of framed artwork on right wall, additional room in view floor standing wooden art pieces placed around the floor

‘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

(Image credit: Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan)

Black and white image of the artist H.C. Westermann, sat smiling on the bumper of an old vintage style truck, dirt style road, vast grass terrain landscape in the backdrop, cloudy sky

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

(Image credit: Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan)

White & colourful splatter paint sculpture in the shape of a cactus, mounted on a wooden plinth with the words 'Texas Cactus' engraved into the wood, white background

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

(Image credit: Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan)

Wooden art piece in a glass and wood display case, white background

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

(Image credit: Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan)

Red wooden sculpture, set on a plinth with engraving 'Red King' , white background

‘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

(Image credit: Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan)

INFORMATION

'See America First' runs until 19 December

Photography courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan

ADDRESS

Venus Over Manhattan (opens in new tab)
980 Madison Avenue
3rd Floor
New York

VIEW GOOGLE MAPS (opens in new tab)

Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.