H.C. Westermann at Lennon, Weinberg Inc.

H.C. Westermann, A Lady in Paradise (1977), ink and watercolor on paper; courtesy Lennon, Weinberg Inc.

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You wouldn’t know it from Woman, “the Sweetest Flower,” an exhibition dedicated primarily to the drawings and prints of the sculptor H.C. Westermann (1922-1981), on view at Lennon, Weinberg Inc., but he’s among the better American artists of the 20th century. You would get the idea that he’s among the most contrarian, as well as crude, cantankerous and randy. If you’ve guessed that makes him likable–you’re right. A seamless amalgamation of Elie Nadelman, Joseph Cornell, W.C. Fields and the folk artist round the bend, Westermann invested an immaculate sense of sculptural craft (no mean carpenter, he) with an infectiously ribald sense of humor.

The craft and, with it, Westermann’s significance is scarcely in evidence at Lennon, Weinberg: Three marooned sculptures don’t do either justice. The humor, however, is seen in abundance. The works-on-paper, with their cartoonish panoramas of the American landscape and moonlit docks, depict shaggy-dog stories brimming with true love, sad love, good sex, bad sex, inescapable mortality and–gracing the lot–a boundless appetite for that vulgar thing called life. See America first, Westermann counsels–but not before he’s pinched your wife’s ass and flipped you the bird. You’ll love him all the better for it just the same.

© 2005 Mario Naves

Originally published in the November 5, 2005 edition of The New York Observer.

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