artist / participant

press release

Dreaming of a Speech Without Words: The Paintings and Early Objects of H. C. Westermann is the first exhibition of paintings by of H. C. Westermann (1922 - 1981) since before the artist gained critical attention in the late 1950s. The only other public exhibit of Westermann’s early paintings was staged in 1954 at the now defunct Mandel Brothers department store, formerly on State Street in Chicago. Dreaming of a Speech Without Words also includes early painted objects, sculptures, and drawings, many of which have never been shown publicly. Through a dialogue between and among these early works, the exhibition attempts to shed light on Westermann’s nascent enthusiasm for painting in the beginning of the 1950s and the implications this had for his development as an artist best known at the end of the decade for his finely crafted wooden sculptures. Raised in Hollywood, California, Westermann served as a gunner aboard the USS Enterprise in World War II and as a combat infantryman in the Korean War. Between the wars, he studied art at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a school first suggested to him by a shipmate aboard the Enterprise. After World War II, Westermann studied vocational arts – commercial and industrial design and drafting – but changed his course of study to fine art after returning from Korea. In a 1954 letter to his sister Martha, Westermann confided that he “had something to say” and over time that “something” had a great deal to do with the traumatic experiences he had survived in both wars. Works in the exhibition reveal the artist’s self exploration and rapid artistic development against the backdrop of late modernism in the United States.

Dreaming of a Speech Without Words: the Paintings and Early Objects of H. C. Westermann will travel to the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ (February 10 – May 27, 2007), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA (June 30 – October 21, 2007) and the Iris & Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford , Stanford, CA (November 21, 2007 – March 2, 2008), and is accompanied by a full-color catalog with essays by Michael Rooks, Dennis Adrian, and David McCarthy and postscript by Mark Booth, Aaron Curry, Chris Johanson, Ryan Johnson, John Tanji Koga, Jason Meadows, Jim Nutt, Erik Parker, Ruth Root, and Ed Ruscha.

Dreaming of a Speech Without Words: The Paintings and Early Objects of H. C. Westermann was organized by The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu and curated by Michael Rooks. Its presentation was made possible through the generous support of Mary and Roy Cullen, Ruth P. Horwich, and Sharon and Thurston Twigg-Smith. In-kind support has been provided by ResortQuest Hawaii, formerly Aston Hotels and Resorts and Horizon Lines, LLC.

This exhibition is dedicated to Walter Hopps.


Dreaming of a Speech Without Words
The Paintings and Early Objects of H. C. Westermann
Kurator: Michael Rooks