At the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, American painter Wayne Thiebaud goes beyond Pop Art

This exhibit was a discovery for many, including us. In Europe we have vaguely heard of Wayne Thiebaud (1920-2021). Those who follow contemporary art auctions in New York habitually see one of his paintings pass the auction block. Usually neat slices of cake, a wedding cake or two, or more of an American pastry, just looking at them can raise cholesterol levels. Others have had the chance to see one of the many exhibitions dedicated to him in museums across the Atlantic, such as the Whitney Museum’s retrospectives in 1971 and 2001, or New York’s Acquavella Gallery, which has represented him since 2012.

That’s why the exhibition of 55 paintings and a dozen drawings dedicated to him by the Fondation Beyeler in Basel is popular. In Europe, apart from those who saw Documenta Kassel organized by Harald Szeemann in Kassel (Germany) in 1972 or recently visited the Museo Morandi in Bologna (Italy), one of his references, Mo The Landy Museum held his retrospective in 2011, or in 2018 at the Voorlinden Museum in Wassenaar (Netherlands), Dibo was a total stranger. It also suits him well, he never wants to express himself. He has been a teacher since 1951, was educated in California straight out of school, and seems to be adjusting well.

Like Mr. Jourdain, Wayne Thiebaud created Pop Art without knowing it. He was even one of its inventors. Finally, here is what Andy Warhol and others, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, wrote to him during their stay in New York in 1956 explained. He had come to meet Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, pioneers of Expressionism. He returned to California in 1957, but failed to shake off the stigma: young pop artists saw pioneers in him.

teaching, a profession

It is undeniable that he owns all the code for the advertising graphics. At 15, he was an apprentice at Disney Studios. He was a letter painter, movie poster designer, theater decorator and even decorated the fuselages of airplanes during his military service from 1942 to 1945 with these hilarious characters typical of the US Air Force with special humor.

But his vocation is teaching. He threw himself into it, first quitting all other careers, and then starting in 1954 he made a series of educational films. Despite his success as an artist, he remained a professor until his retirement from UC Davis in 1991 (where he continued to teach on a voluntary basis a decade later). Among his pupils were some well-known personalities such as Mel Ramos or Bruce Nauman, who were also his assistants.

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