Tom Wesselmann (American, 1931-2004)
Dropped Bra, 1988
Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and Gift of Margo Leavin and Donald P. Lippincott (TCM.1992.5)
Tom Wesselmann’s monumental ladies’ undergarment has been at Spalding House since 1992 (when it was The Contemporary Museum Honolulu), a gift from the Los Angeles art dealer Margo Leavin and Donald P. Lippincott, the founder of the Connecticut-based sculpture fabrication company Lippincott, Inc., which created the work per the artist’s instructions. Twenty-five years later, the paint was faded, the aluminum weathered (one art blogger pointed this out). It was time to do some laundry.
Our curator of contemporary art, James Jensen, wanted to have the work conserved locally to save on transport costs. “The obvious places to go were marine and auto body painters, but none of them wanted to touch the project when they heard it involved an artwork,” says Jensen. “It’s a fairly straightforward job—it’s like painting a car. You prepare it then spray paint it.” Then he thought of fine woodworker Logan White of Pai‘ea Millwrights, which has sandblasting and spray painting booths.
“I knew Logan was a skilled craftsman and perfectionist,” says Jensen. “When we approached him, initially he was reluctant, but the more he thought about it he realized he could accommodate the project.”
In her search for the correct paint color for the sculpture, registrar Cynthia Low followed a few dead ends. Then, a conversation with someone from the Wesselmann Estate led to the right path. Low contacted Lippincott, Inc. and worked with Donald Lippincott’s son, Alfred, securing the company’s file on the fabrication of Dropped Bra. “I spoke with Alfred and he FedExed us the original paint samples,” says Low. “I’m just really happy that now we have a true color match for posterity.”
In April, the sculpture was dismantled into its 11 pieces. Then in June, White, after studying the documents from Lippincott, got to work, sanding the surfaces down to “well-adhered paint or bare metal,” treating the bare metal with a Dupont Aluminum Prep System, then priming and painting the work, clear-coating it and reassembling the sculpture. Richard and Judie Malmgren generously paid to have the sculpture’s cement base redone.
Last Thursday our installation crew reinstalled the sculpture, near the Spalding House Café entrance, now restored to its glossy muted pink.
Staff have mixed feelings about the facelift. Curator of education Aaron Padilla says, “I liked the grime. And it outlined the contours of the sculpture.” Meanwhile, Spalding House facilities director Sheryl Kramer likes the renewed shine.
The sculpture “was intended to be an edition of three,” says Jensen, “but Wesselman only had one made, so it is a unique piece, and in terms of scale, it’s one of his major sculptural works, and an important part of our Pop Art holdings.”
Wesselmann, a founder of American Pop Art, described his artwork like Dropped Bra as things that “might be deposited on a bedside table by a woman just in for a ‘nooner.’” For this sculpture, he created a mass of straps, a buckle, cut-out lace, and curvaceous cups. Wesselmann sculpted the “fabric” from industrial aluminum and then painted it in a delicate pink to celebrate the seductive but aggressive beauty of this lingerie. Dropped Bra was made in the tradition of his freestanding paintings such as the 1960-61 Great American Nude series.
Inspired by Matisse, Wesselmann’s voluptuous nudes engaged in everyday activities such as lounging or watching television. The series seems to comment on the abundant display of the erotic and mundane imagery in American society through the fun-loving eyes of an artist.
Head to Spalding House and have a look for yourself and let us know what you think.