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Almine Rech

Tom Wesselmann Monica with Wesselmann

Jun 7 — Jul 20, 2024 | Paris, Matignon

Opening on Friday June 7, from 6 to 8 pm

Almine Rech Paris, Matignon is pleased to present Monica with Wesselmann, Tom Wesselmann's fifth solo exhibition with the gallery, organized in conjunction with the Estate of Tom Wesselmann. The show will be on view from June 7 to July 20, 2024.

We don’t hear from artists’ models often enough. Yet their accounts are valuable, like the one offered today by Monica Serra, who was Tom Wesselmann’s model from 1982 until the end of his career in 2004. She was much younger than he when they met at an exhibition of the Standing Still Lifes at the Sydney Janis Gallery. Wesselmann was then known as one of the big names in American Pop Art, having become famous in the 1960s with his Great American Nudes series. From their first meeting, Monica and Tom appreciated each other and became friends. They shared a love of music, which they both composed and performed—in his case, country, and in hers, alternative rock, since she sang with her band in New York clubs such as CBGB, the Peppermint Lounge, or Danceteria. Two different worlds, but so much the better, for Tom wanted to enter the 1980s and was looking for a new point of departure. It would be Monica, with her dramatic bangs, and her arrival also corresponds to the beginning of the laser-cut pieces: “something about me matched the process,” as she explains.

In the beginning, she posed only for portraits, before becoming his main model, following Claire, Tom’s wife, who was also an artist and had embodied his painting in the 1960s and 1970s. For that was what it meant, since the model, and more specifically the nude model, was so essential to Wesselmann’s art, and he had made this a specialty. Monica’s account teaches us something important in this regard: that we are in the presence of an experience that belongs to another register and goes beyond the triviality of a man looking at a nude woman. We understand here that Monica is not only a model, but also an assistant, and, even more, a collaborator and close friend of the artist. She describes the studio and her posing sessions. Her words are precise and thoughtful. Although we’re in New York, in a loft on the Bowery, she describes a traditional studio practice that has been repeated for generations by Western painters. Basically, there’s nothing out of the ordinary, except that the eroticism and its visual language explored by Wesselmann’s painting are light-years away from what Monica explains to us. From her point of view, the experience, what happens in reality, is something sacred, supernatural, as if the painter and his model, and the whole small theater of creativity that this scene suggests, entered a different space together to which she gives no location, no name. But we understand that it is simply the space of Painting, with a capital P: no longer a reality but the evocation of an ideal.

— Claudine Grammont, head of the graphic arts department at the Centre Pompidou

"At first, I thought of modeling for Tom as just a job. A starving artist, so to speak, coming to NYC needs some work to support her art, and I was lucky enough to land a job working as Tom Wesselmann’s model. That was the starting point, and it was amazing in itself. Later, I would become an assistant, mixing his paint, keeping his records, helping him manage his clients and his sales, singing his country songs, and being his friend. At first, it was not a steady job, being just the model, but later by adding in studio work, it became my permanent gig. And little did I know I was entering history.

In the 80s Tom was having a renaissance along with a world that was changing. There was something in the air. We all knew it, but when you’re in it, it’s hard to see. NYC was reinventing itself and so was Tom.
Tom was very clever as well as creative. He was excited and itching to incorporate his new idea – the development of the laser cut metal pieces. Something about me matched the process. He was already testing this new medium when I arrived on the scene. His wife and favorite model, Claire, was busy raising their children, so Tom was using various other models after her. But he was looking for someone longer lasting. Someone who would represent this new stage of his artistic vision. I became that person."

— Monica Serra

Press release

  • read or download in English
  • lire ou télécharger en Français

Selected artworks

  • Tom Wesselmann,                                      Drawing: Monica (Portrait), 1984

    Tom Wesselmann Drawing: Monica (Portrait), 1984

    Estate signed by Claire Wesselmann on back

    Pencil on paper

    36.8 x 29.2 cm; 14 1/2 x 11 1/2 in (unframed)
    56 x 46 x 4 cm; 22 x 18 x 1 1/2 in (framed)

  • Tom Wesselmann,                                      Monica (Head) (Color), 1986

    Tom Wesselmann Monica (Head) (Color), 1986

    Estate signed by Claire Wesselmann on back

    Pencil and Liquitex on paper

    36.2 x 31.6 cm; 14 1/2 x 12 1/2 in (unframed)
    53 x 48 x 4 cm; 21 x 19 x 1 1/2 in (framed)

  • Tom Wesselmann,                                      Monica Nude with Lichtenstein, 1992

    Tom Wesselmann Monica Nude with Lichtenstein, 1992

    Liquitex on Bristol board

    111.8 x 149.9 cm; 44 x 59 in (unframed)
    164 x 126 x 7 cm; 64 1/2 x 49 1/2 x 3 in (framed)

  • Tom Wesselmann,                                      Monica Sitting with Mondrian (Variation #4), 1988

    Tom Wesselmann Monica Sitting with Mondrian (Variation #4), 1988

    Enamel on cut-out steel

    154.9 x 105.4 cm
    61 x 41 1/2 in

  • Tom Wesselmann,                                      Blue Nude Drawing (10/29/99), 1997-00

    Tom Wesselmann Blue Nude Drawing (10/29/99), 1997-00

    Oil on canvas

    121.9 x 162.6 cm; 48 x 64 in (unframed)
    167 x 126 x 7 cm; 66 x 49 1/2 x 3 in (framed)


  • In conversation: Monica Serra and Claudine Grammont