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Letter from William T. Wiley to H. C. Westermann c. 1966

From the Archives: Letter from William T. Wiley to H. C. Westermann c. December, 1966.

In 1958, the sculptor Jeremy Anderson showed two of his students a catalogue of work by H. C. Westermann, whose sculpture Anderson was familiar through their shared dealer, Allan Frumkin. The experience was revelatory to the two young artists, Robert Hudson and William T. Wiley and would impact their careers in different ways. When Westermann first showed in San Francisco, at the Dilexi Gallery in 1962, Wiley’s career was just taking off, with his first solo exhibition in New York, yet seeing works like Westermann’s “Untitled” (in the shape of a question mark), would influence his own use of such symbols. A few years later found Wiley teaching at UC Davis, where one of his graduate students was Bruce Nauman. In a gesture true to the playful nature of their work, in April of 1965 Wiley and Nauman sent Westermann a rather cryptic note, asking for his thoughts on an work by Man Ray, appropriately titled “The Riddle.” To their suprise, Westermann actually responded, ending with the advice “TAKE IT EASY MAN!!” Unperturbed, Wiley responded, beginning a correspondence that would go on for years. He and Westermann finally met at the California home of Peter Saul later that year, while Westermann and his wife Joanna were living in San Francisco. According to Wiley, he was a bit “in awe” to meet Westermann, however the older artist generously visited his studio, judging Wiley’s work to be “interesting, mysterious stuff.”
This letter, from around the end of 1966, is a testament to the two sculptor’s growing relationship; Wiley comments on the boost Westermann’s drawings give him and asks a favor: “Sometime if you have the time or energy or generosity too. I would like a plaque that says “NOTHING IS TO BE DONE.” - It’s a thing I am working on and asking different artists to do it.” 
Wiley later described the project as a “tight spot with myself and my work,” soliciting various artists to contribute, including friends Bruce Nauman and Robert Arneson, both of whom contributed works. Westermann, to Wiley’s surprise, also sent a plaque, a beautifully carved wooden relief, “Nothing is to be Done for William T. Wiley” that Wiley received on Valentine’s Day in 1967.

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Letter from William T. Wiley to H. C. Westermann, c. December 1966

Letter from William T. Wiley to H. C. Westermann, c. December 1966.

Courtesy the George Adams Gallery Archives.

Letter from William T. Wiley to H. C. Westermann, c. December 1966

Letter from William T. Wiley to H. C. Westermann (reverse), c. December 1966.

Courtesy the George Adams Gallery Archives.

In 1958, the sculptor Jeremy Anderson showed two of his students a catalogue of work by H. C. Westermann, whose sculpture Anderson was familiar through their shared dealer, Allan Frumkin. The experience was revelatory to the two young artists, Robert Hudson and William T. Wiley and would impact their careers in different ways. When Westermann first showed in San Francisco, at the Dilexi Gallery in 1962, Wiley’s career was just taking off, with his first solo exhibition in New York, yet seeing works like Westermann’s Untitled (in the shape of a question mark), would influence his own use of such symbols. A few years later found Wiley teaching at University of California, Davis, where one of his graduate students was Bruce Nauman. In a gesture true to the playful nature of their work, in April of 1965 Wiley and Nauman sent Westermann a rather cryptic note, asking for his thoughts on an work by Man Ray, appropriately titled The Riddle. To their surprise, Westermann actually responded, his letter ending with the advice “TAKE IT EASY MAN!!” Unperturbed, Wiley responded, beginning a correspondence that would go on for years. He and Westermann finally met at the California home of Peter Saul later that year, while Westermann and his wife Joanna were living in San Francisco. According to Wiley, he was a bit “in awe” to meet Westermann, however the older artist generously visited his studio, judging Wiley’s work to be “interesting, mysterious stuff.”


This letter, from around the end of 1966, is a testament to the two sculptor’s growing relationship; Wiley comments on the boost Westermann’s drawings give him and asks a favor: “Sometime if you have the time or energy or generosity too. I would like a plaque that says “NOTHING IS TO BE DONE.” - It’s a thing I am working on and asking different artists to do it.” Wiley later described the project as a “tight spot with myself and my work,” soliciting various artists to contribute, including friends Bruce Nauman and Robert Arneson, both of whom contributed works. Westermann, to Wiley’s surprise, also sent a plaque, a beautifully carved wooden relief, Nothing is to be Done for William T. Wiley, that Wiley received on Valentine’s Day in 1967.