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Human Fly

The gallery’s legacy going back to 1952 is inextricably linked to H. C. Westermann. There is no way to overstate his impact on the gallery both in terms of his art and his personality; both are equivalent.

During the Allan Frumkin Gallery’s formative years in Chicago Westermann was the art handler, handyman, exhibiting artist, loyal correspondent, cut up, ex-Marine and resident bad boy. Allan Frumkin once told me a story of returning from lunch to find blood spattered on the gallery walls and Westermann, tasked to mind the space while Allan was out, furiously rubbing his knuckles while cursing the building’s super. Years later Allan would blow smoke from his post-prandial cigar over my lunch to discourage any inclination to linger; that and his toothy grin I believe can be directly attributed to Westermann. Not to mention many other notable eccentricities that I regularly encountered as a young employee of the Frumkin Gallery and struggled to put a stop to.
And while in the early 1960s gallery artists such as Beal and Pearlstein helped defined American Post-war figurative painting and Saul celebrated the cruder side of Pop, Westermann’s haunting sculptures of love and loss, hope and despair, of recurrent nightmares and enduring love were as convincing as art could be and yet utterly baffling. No one made work like Horace Clifford Westermann – no one could. 
His influence was wide among artists, no more so than on the West Coast. However, while Westermann was born in LA and exhibited there for many years, it was in Northern California where his work struck a deeply resonant chord. Westermann’s sculptures in particular, wrapped in enigma and lathered in humility, posed questions that defied any easy answers. His work was as sincere as it was knowing, aware that he had no answer to What’s it all about? other than it’s about trying to survive and perhaps to even understand a little about why shit happens. There’s an attitude of modesty in his work that nearly disguises his ambition, not to mention his conviction that something needs to be said, and maybe done, about life’s inequities, its tragedies, its horrors. And even so he takes the time to also celebrate love. 

I first encountered Westermann’s work in 1978 as a college intern at the Whitney when Barbara Haskell’s retrospective was on view. I confess that I had no idea what to think of the work because frankly nothing in my life heretofore had prepared me for finding anything that looked like that in an art museum. It was unsettling. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t fit. 

One of the best things I ever learned from my years in the art world is that not fitting is perhaps – not always, but perhaps – a really good thing. That an artist whose work doesn’t subscribe to something known is maybe, possibly, a hell of a lot more interesting than the work of an artist who does. 
With Westermann it took me a long time (and not a little of that going through the gallery’s files in search of a better understanding of who, exactly, Horace Clifford Westermann was), to figure out that when it came to his work it didn’t have to make sense. In fact, that was the best part. Westermann only posed questions and it was up to you the viewer to actually think about and maybe not – probably not – find any answers to his questions. After all they are big ones and he meant it to be hard; too bad if you didn’t like it or get it.

I love Westermann’s work for that reason. And many others as well. And I think that is why so many artists love Westermann, too. It is modest and smart and ambitious without any signal that he wants you to know that. He just wants his work to help you to think and feel and be human. And it does.

Image and text

H.C. Westermann, The Human Fly, 1971. Ink and watercolor on paper, 29 3/4 x 22 3/8 inches.

"The gallery’s legacy going back to 1952 is inextricably linked to  H. C. Westermann. There is no way to overstate his impact on the gallery both in terms of his art and his personality; both are equivalent.

"During the Allan Frumkin Gallery’s formative years in Chicago Westermann was the art handler, handyman, exhibiting artist, loyal correspondent, cut up, ex-Marine and resident bad boy. Allan Frumkin once told me a story of returning from lunch to find blood spattered on the gallery walls and Westermann, tasked to mind the space while Allan was out, furiously rubbing his knuckles while cursing the building’s super. Years later Allan would blow smoke from his post-prandial cigar over my lunch to discourage any inclination to linger; that and his toothy grin I believe can be directly attributed to Westermann. Not to mention many other notable eccentricities that I regularly encountered as a young employee of the Frumkin Gallery and struggled to put a stop to.
And while in the early 1960s gallery artists such as Beal and Pearlstein helped defined American Post-war figurative painting and Saul celebrated the cruder side of Pop, Westermann’s haunting sculptures of love and loss, hope and despair, of recurrent nightmares and enduring love were as convincing as art could be and yet utterly baffling. No one made work like Horace Clifford Westermann – no one could.
His influence was wide among artists, no more so than on the West Coast. However, while Westermann was born in LA and exhibited there for many years, it was in Northern California where his work struck a deeply resonant chord. Westermann’s sculptures in particular, wrapped in enigma and lathered in humility, posed questions that defied any easy answers. His work was as sincere as it was knowing, aware that he had no answer to What’s it all about? other than it’s about trying to survive and perhaps to even understand a little about why shit happens. There’s an attitude of modesty in his work that nearly disguises his ambition, not to mention his conviction that something needs to be said, and maybe done, about life’s inequities, its tragedies, its horrors. And even so he takes the time to also celebrate love.

"I first encountered Westermann’s work in 1978 as a college intern at the Whitney when Barbara Haskell’s retrospective was on view.  I confess that I had no idea what to think of the work because frankly nothing in my life heretofore had prepared me for finding anything that looked like that in an art museum. It was unsettling. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t fit.
One of the best things I ever learned from my years in the art world is that not fitting is perhaps – not always, but perhaps – a really good thing. That an artist whose work doesn’t subscribe to something known is maybe, possibly, a hell of a lot more interesting than the work of an artist who does.
With Westermann it took me a long time (and not a little of that going through the gallery’s files in search of a better understanding of who, exactly, Horace Clifford Westermann was), to figure out that when it came to his work it didn’t have to make sense. In fact, that was the best part. Westermann only posed questions and it was up to you the viewer to actually think about and maybe not – probably not – find any answers to his questions. After all they are big ones and he meant it to be hard; too bad if you didn’t like it or get it.
I love Westermann’s work for that reason. And many others as well. And I think that is why so many artists love Westermann, too. It is modest and smart and ambitious without any signal that he wants you to know that. He just wants his work to help you to think and feel and be human. And it does."