See America First

January 20 – March 16, 2024


"It would seem that Westermann is one of the best artists around...
It is obvious that Surrealist sources could be found for many of Westermann's ideas.
It is just as obvious that the objects are something new."
Donald Judd

We are delighted to present ,See America First’ by the influential American artist H.C. Westermann.
Primarily known as a sculptor, H. C. Westermann garnered a growing cult following in recent years.
His work has thus appealed to successive generations of artists, among them Bruce Nauman, who created a work inspired by the artist titled Westermann's Ear (1967; collection Museum Ludwig, Cologne) and Donald Judd.
See America First is a series of 18 prints on paper and a unique wood work made by Westermann in 1968. The series was inspired by a road trip taken across the country in 1964.

In the 1960s, the phrase was emblazoned seemingly everywhere: As SEE AMERICA FIRST featured prominently in advertisements for railways, national parks and bus lines, it also seeped into America's shifting collective consciousness.
Prior to accepting a coveted invitation to print at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Hollywood, H. C. Westermann took a long road trip. After his transcontinental trek to California, he wrote about "A NEW RESPECT AND LOVE FOR THIS COUNTRY AFTER TAKING A TRIP ACROSS IT SLOW!/ A Tribute to America/ IT'S BEAUTIFUL." Several preparatory travel sketches and watercolors preceded See America First, Westermann's expansive and tightly choreographed portfolio that served as both a love letter to America and warning against encroaching nvironmental degradation.

See America First reveals Westermann´s protective perspective.
He was a naval gunner in the Pacific theater at the end of World War II and never shook the vulnerability and responsibility that he felt during attacks by kamikaze.

Unsurprisingly, Westermann rejected the canvas-covered portfolio covers that the Tamarind workshop provided to encase the portfolio. He opted instead to construct, by hand, his own durable wood boxes together with his uncle, a highly-skilled wood carver, that were covered with a shellacked, wood-burn drawing of "Le Bandeur" or "the shaft," the daily salute that he exchanged with his printers. Westermann observed that these wooden sculptures would "protect the prints and keep the suites intact."
Both emblematic of their time and oddly prescient, this portfolio of lithographs can be viewed as H. C. Westermann´s attempt to protect America and the world.

¹ Donald Judd, Complete Writings, 1969-1975 (Novia Scotia: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975), p. 99.

The work of Horace Clifford Westermann (1922-1981) was steadily exhibited over the course of the artist’s career at the Kansas City Art Institute (1966 & 1970), University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley (1971); the São Paulo Bienal (1973 and 1979); the Venice Biennale (1976); and the Serpentine Gallery, London (1980); and posthumous exhibitions of his work have taken place at the Art Institute of Chicago (1987); the Contemporary Museum, Honolulu (1994), among other venues. Major retrospective exhibitions of his work were organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1969); the Whitney Museum of American Art (1978-1979); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which traveled to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Menil Collection, Houston

See America First is in the institutional collections of:
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA

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