John Wesley, Afternoon Sail at the Edge of the World, 1978 © John Wesley


Pace Welcomes John Wesley

Published Thursday, Feb 9, 2023

Pace is pleased to announce its exclusive and worldwide representation of the John Wesley estate. Wesley, who died in 2022 at age 93, is known for his flattened, idiosyncratic figurations that defy easy classification within any single artistic movement. Pace’s debut presentation of the artist’s work will take place at Frieze Los Angeles 2023, where his paintings Afternoon Sail at the Edge of the World (1978) and Woman with Glasses (2004) will be featured on the gallery’s booth.

Associated with Pop Art and later Minimalism, Wesley was a key figure in American art from the 1960s until his death last year. Drawing inspiration from images in comics and other mass media, the painter cultivated a distinctive, graphic style characterized by bold, weighted lines, unmodulated color, and an absurdist-edge. Eroticism, humor, and an ineffable disquietude cut across Wesley’s works in a manner that critics have likened to Surrealism, though the artist asserted that he had no conscious intentions to emulate the Surrealists.

Wesley explored a wide range of imagery in his work. He produced a large body of landscapes regularly depicting tranquil shorelines and seascapes, but also rolling hills and urban skylines. In his figurations, the human body and its constituent parts are often used to experiment with repetition as a formal device. Wesley also frequently reimagined characters from popular culture—including Dagwood Bumstead from the Blondie comic strip—in scenes across his oeuvre.

Many of Wesley’s paintings are concerned with enactments of balance and symmetry, examining nuances of sexuality and desire through a formal language marked by unexpected crispness and precision. Despite their dynamism, the artist’s uncanny figurations are underpinned by a peculiar, psychological heft.

Born in Los Angeles in 1928, Wesley was part of a generation of artists emerging from the Great Depression and World War II. When he was five years old, the artist found his father—having died from a stroke—on the bathroom floor of the family home. The traumatizing event had a major impact on the artist, who worked blue-collar jobs by day and studied art by night in his twenties. He took a job in the illustration department of the Northrop Aircraft Corporation in 1953, and in 1960 he relocated to New York, working first as a postal clerk. He would live and work in New York for the rest of his life and career.

Among the early milestones of Wesley’s career was his inclusion in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 1959 Annual exhibition, the 1968–69 Painting Annual at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and Documenta 5 in Kassel in 1972. Major exhibitions dedicated to his work in more recent years include a retrospective at the PS1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1, in New York in 2000–2001 and a 2009 retrospective at the Fondazione Prada, organized by curator Germano Celant during the Venice Biennale that year.

Dan Flavin and Donald Judd were among Wesley’s friends and supporters, and Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas houses a permanent exhibition space dedicated to Wesley’s work. In 1982, when Judd invited him to Marfa, Wesley produced a series of paintings that are part of Chinati’s collection today. Chinati’s holdings include paintings, prints, and works on paper created by Wesley as early as 1963.

Pace will work in association with Fredericks & Freiser in New York, Wesley’s gallery of almost 30 years.

Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace Gallery, says:
“John Wesley, a largely self-taught artist who gave figuration a new edge in the 20th century, produced a body of work that is at once compelling and disarming, buoyant and enigmatic. He played a huge role in shaping American culture in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, utilizing the aesthetics of mass media in his poignant, witty commentaries on issues of politics and sex. Wesley’s work can be understood in the lineages of Pop Art and Minimalism, two movements that are of great interest to me and to Pace. I’ve had the pleasure of revisiting the John Wesley Gallery at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa several times, where the spectacular works on view speak to the special relationship between Wesley and Donald Judd, situating him within a cohort of other artists also breathing new life into some of Minimalism’s core tenets. We’re thrilled to welcome the Wesley estate to the gallery, and we look forward to sharing the artist’s work with our audiences around the world.”

In addition to the Chinati Foundation, the artist’s work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and other international institutions.

To learn more about John Wesley, click here.
  • News — John Wesley Joins Pace Gallery, Feb 9, 2023