Friday, July 31, 2009

John Wesley Retrospective

John Wesley Retrospective
San Giorgio Maggiore
presented by Prada Foundation

In 2009 the earliest works, from the early 60s, look visionary. Seen in retrospect it is an uncanny mirror into a future that has already passed.

He is a symbolist in the true sense. He uses symbols iconographicallyl-- a post office badge (for years his "day job" was at the Post Office), a profile line of large-breasted women, Whoopee! girls who look like their ubiquitous echoes seen on the mudflaps of tricked out trucks and muscle cars. The part speaks for the unseen whole. The images are nostalgia-filled and makes one better understand the beginnings of the sensibility that made Warhol a very rich man.

The cow framed by a repeated pattern of naked dancing ladies (1964) predates the Warhol cow wallpaper by two years. By 1969 the Mod Gernreich vision is explicit. He works in a consistent style that is witty and elegant, with a restrained palette always colored within the lines. Although they lack the bite of the best contemporary work they are beautiful in the Japanese manner ("Tour de France," "Egg"), as flat formal compositions. "Good Appetite" and "Gluttony" are sly. In "Plague," a naked woman in the Drop Drill position is rained upon by a deluge of bouncing diapered babies.

I prefer the lurid hot house of medieval frescoes and the complexly imagined dreams and nightmares at the Punta della Dogana. But each of Wesley's works are painted with a masterful stroke that is entirely controlled, not filled with drama.

An electric charge enters the show with the late erotica, Blondie giving Dagwood a blow job in bed or Dagwood's wet dream of a libidinously drunk geisha ("Utamaro Washing, Dagwood Sleeping).

In the vast and quiet almost deserted space, Wesley makes comic book pop into a John Updike erotica, pastel and clean and explicit. The erotica is late, closing the show, like Picasso's minotaurs or Yeats's Crazy Jane poems. Does this happen to all men if they live long enough, the late blooming of a wild and mature sexuality, the autumnal exaltation of physical passion?

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