H. C. Westermann


Installation view, H. C. Westermann, MCA Chicago, Jun 30–Sep 24, 2001. Photo: © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, H. C. Westermann, MCA Chicago, Jun 30–Sep 24, 2001. Photo: © MCA Chicago.


H. [Horace] C. [Clifford] Westermann (1922–1981) is one of the most influential, yet underrecognized, figures in postwar American art. His work and the tough, no-nonsense persona he created for himself earned the respect and admiration of peers. Now, 20 years after his death, Westermann’s influence continues to resound in the work of a new generation of artists at the same time it speaks to a new generation of viewers. Westermann invented an entirely new genre of sculpture that combined the surrealist practice of assemblage, traditional sculpting techniques, and the elements of design with carpentry and woodworking techniques and materials. He is primarily known for his use of wood—often incorporating common commercial or domestic products such as plate glass, plywood, galvanized sheet metal, and pile carpet as sculptural materials—as well as more traditional media like bronze and exotic hardwoods. Underscoring his method was an indefatigable work ethic acquired by necessity. Westermann grew up during the Great Depression and was toughened during his service as a marine in World War II and Korea.

The exhibition, complemented by a catalogue raisonné of Westermann’s objects, will be a definitive re-examination of the artist’s oeuvre, demonstrating the complexity and seriousness of subject, theme, and allusion in his work, and revealing his original American genius. This will be the first major museum exhibition devoted to Westermann since 1979. This exhibition will travel to Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Menil Collection, Houston.

In conjunction with the exhibition, see 10 films related to the life and work of the artists in the H. C. Westermann Film Series. Learn more about the artist’s life in Chicago by visiting Westermann in Chicago. For educators, the MCA and the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago have jointly developed the H. C. Westermann Teacher Curriculum.


Support for this exhibition and associated publications is generously provided by Mary and Roy Cullen, The LLWW Foundation, Anstiss and Ronald Krueck, Henry and Gilda Buchbinder, Ruth P. Horwich, Susan and Lewis Manilow, Dorothy and Alan Press, Helen and Sam Zell, the Kovler Family Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Marie Krane Bergman and Robert H. Bergman, Carol and Douglas Cohen, the Judith Rothschild Foundation, Mrs. Edwin A. Bergman, Robert and Sylvie Fitzpatrick, and Thurston and Sharon Twigg-Smith. The H. C. Westermann Film Series is made possible in part by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council; the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly. The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust is the generous sponsor of education programs for this exhibition. Media support provided by the Chicago Sun-Times. In conjunction with the MCA exhibition, the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, presents "See America First": Prints by H. C. Westermann from June 28–September 9, 2001. This exhibition consists of approximately 90 prints, drawings, and graphic works by the artist, and is accompanied by a catalogue. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Smart Family Foundation.